Freshmen don’t typically get a great deal of varsity playing time in high school football — especially at quarterback.
But Drew Byerly wasn’t an ordinary freshman, and he wasn’t in an ordinary situation last year at Franklin.
The Grizzly Cubs had Jake Moore firmly established as their starter under center, but when Moore abruptly left the team after a Sept. 30 loss to Plainfield, Byerly was thrown into the fire.
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Senior T.J. Ahlefeld started the following week at Greenwood, but Byerly entered the game in the second quarter and immediately engineered a 77-yard scoring drive, capping it with a 14-yard touchdown pass.
The job belonged to him from that point on, and while Franklin lost those final three games, Byerly gained 239 yards rushing, 256 passing and a wealth of valuable experience.
“It helped me a lot, and just gave me a little taste of what’s coming this year,” he said.
Now a 6-foot-4, 200-pound sophomore, Byerly begins the season as the starting quarterback for Chris Coll — but the new Franklin coach made it clear that he’s not placing too much pressure on his young signal-caller.
“I’ve coached some pretty good quarterbacks,” Coll said, “and he’s definitely got the physical talent, but I also know we don’t want to put everything on him. Other guys need to step up. We’ve got some seniors out there on offense, and they need to make some plays. We can’t put it all on a sophomore quarterback.”
Fortunately for Coll and Byerly, there are some other weapons in the arsenal. Senior Tyler Fromer rushed for 748 yards and 10 scores last fall, and he will likely shoulder an even heavier load this season. Another senior, Riley McCann, was the Grizzly Cubs’ top receiver in 2016 with 26 receptions.
“Tyler, Riley and the guys, they help out a lot,” Byerly said. “They bring leadership, and they put me in good spots.”
Franklin hasn’t been in many good spots recently, going 1-9 in each of the past two seasons. The Grizzly Cubs haven’t finished with a winning record since 1996, and the program has just one sectional victory in the last 10 years.
Part of becoming a winning team is developing a winning mentality, and Byerly feels as though that process is well underway.
“We’re working on changing the culture,” he said, “and I love how it’s progressing.”
Byerly figures to play a big role in determining how much that culture change translates into on-field success — but Coll is tempering his expectations.
There’s star potential there, but the Grizzly Cubs don’t necessarily need Byerly to be one right now.
“He’s picking it up piece by piece, but it’s definitely not all on his shoulders,” Coll said. “I don’t want him to think he has to carry us. We need to help him if he’s going to continue to grow.
Franklin’s 2017 football schedule (all games start at 7 p.m.):
Aug. 18;Columbus North
Aug. 25;at Shelbyville
Sept. 1;at Brownsburg
Sept. 15;at Martinsville
Sept. 29;at Plainfield
Oct. 13;at Decatur Central
Franklin Grizzly Cubs
Coach: Chris Coll (1st year)
Last year: 1-9, lost to Whiteland 34-0 in Class 5A sectional semifinal
Projected starters: Drew Byerly, sophomore QB; Tyler Fromer, senior RB; Blake Dicken, senior WR; Riley McCann, senior WR; Hunter Samples, senior WR; Jake Jones, sophomore TE; Nate Sellers, senior DE; George Admire, junior DE; Tommy Reed, senior LB; Manny Cheam, senior LB; Ranger Soots, senior CB; Clayton Coll, junior S
Outlook: After a successful 11-year run at Tri-West that included a Class 3A state title in 2014, Chris Coll will attempt to turn around a Franklin program coming off consecutive one-win seasons. The first order of business will be shoring up a defense that gave up more than 50 points four times, including 75 against Decatur Central in the regular-season finale. The coach is optimistic that he can build around a veteran senior class led by workhorse back Fromer and linebackers Cheam and Reed. The Grizzly Cubs will have their work cut out for them in a tough Mid-State Conference, but there are enough pieces in place to believe they’ll be far more competitive this season.
Coll says: “It’s nice to have tradition, but that doesn’t really mean anything from year to year. Every team’s a new team, every team is starting over. I don’t care if you won a championship or if you didn’t win anything. Every team’s a new start.”
1. Traditional rivalries aside, who are you most looking forward to playing and why?:
Honestly, the next one. That’s what our philosophy as a team has been this year — the next practice, the next team, next game, next scrimmage. We’re always focused on the next thing.
2. If football didn’t exist, how would you keep yourself busy in the fall?:
That’s a hard one; it takes up so much of my time. I’d probably have to pick another sport, but no sport can compare with football. … I can’t answer that question.
3. If you could trade bodies with one of your teammates, who would it be and why?:
Manny Cheam. He’s about 245 (pounds), runs a 4.78, as fast as me in the 40-yard dash, he lifts 500-plus squat, 300-plus bench, so probably him.
4. Name something fans will see from this team that they’re not expecting:
How we’re going to come together after these past few years. A lot of people doubt us, and I think they’re going to be surprised when they come out here and see us actually work as a team and change what we’ve had the past few years into a winning program.