During his freshman and sophomore seasons with the Franklin boys soccer team, Owen Atkison was heavily focused on putting up big numbers — and he did.

Now a junior, Atkison still watches the stat sheet, but he’s come to value the win column more than his personal scoring column.

“If we win sectionals, I don’t care how many goals I score,” he said. “All that matters is winning sectionals.”

With Atkison scoring at the rate he is this season, the Grizzly Cubs are certainly a threat to do so. Through the team’s first 13 matches, he’s racked up an incredible 27 goals — more than some entire teams in the area. He has found the net at least three times in six matches this fall, including six against Whiteland on Sept. 7 and four less than a week later at Martinsville.

Story continues below gallery

It seems odd that a player who scored 14 goals as a freshman and 17 as a sophomore was able to find another gear, but Atkison has — in large part, he says, because he’s putting less pressure on himself.

“I sort of was too hard on myself the first two years,” he explained, “and I started to buckle down and calm down and just have more confidence in myself as a player — and started to realize what type of player I really was.”

The surge in Atkison’s numbers has been at least somewhat due to the fact that he’s had to carry a greater load since his running mate up front, senior Joe Nerding, suffered a midseason injury. In the first three matches that Nerding was out, Atkison tallied 12 goals.

None of the added production has been forced, though.

“It’s not like we’re just feeding him the ball,” Franklin coach Tony Harris said. “He gets in great moments — he had four goals on four shots (against Martinsville). So he makes those things count.

“When he gets the opportunity, it’s most likely going in the back of the net.”

Before the season, Atkison set a lofty target of 40 goals for himself. Hitting that would not only obliterate Franklin’s single-season record of 33, but also put him past the program’s career mark (68) with a year to spare.

While he’s kept that number in mind — and put it within range — it’s a secondary goal. Atkison wants the Grizzly Cubs to win first and foremost.

He’s come to realize that one usually takes care of the other — during his three years, Franklin has never lost a match in which Atkison has scored at least one goal.

“I sort of just find that when I go for the team goals above my own, then everything else just seems to fall into place,” Atkison said.

The team’s primary goal is to break through for a sectional title. Center Grove has traditionally had Franklin’s number, and the bracket is even tougher this year with Perry Meridian, Southport and Roncalli moving in.

But the Grizzly Cubs will be hosting this time — and Atkison feels as though they’re capable of breaking the Trojans’ stranglehold on the crown.

“We feel like we’re at their level, and we’re frustrated and mad that we’re in their shadow,” he said. “We want to be something different; we want to get out of that shadow. We don’t want to be a team that’s just lost sectionals every year.”

Helping Franklin collect some hardware this postseason would make Atkison’s individual accomplishments that much more satisfying — a concept he acknowledges he didn’t fully grasp before.

“It took the first two years to realize that I’m nothing without the entire team,” he said.

By the numbers

Franklin junior Owen Atkison is on track to possibly break the school records for goals scored in a season (33) and in a career (68). His year-by-year numbers through the first 13 matches of his junior season:

Year;Goals;Assists

2015;14;12

2016;17;13

2017;27;7

Totals;58;32

Author photo
Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.