Save for a small trim at one point, Clayton Coll has been growing his hair out since Week 4 of the 2015 high school football season.
That was roughly 200 tackles ago.
Coll, who played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Tri-West, moved to Franklin this past winter when his father Chris became the Grizzly Cubs’ head football coach — and he’s had little trouble getting acclimated to his new surroundings.
Heading into tonight’s game, the junior linebacker has racked up an astounding 117 tackles this season, far and away the most in Johnson County. Coll has recorded at least 11 stops in each game, with season highs in each of the past two weeks (17 at Plainfield, 18 vs. Greenwood).
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Though joining a new team is always tough, Coll had the luxury of being familiar with his father’s system, which hasn’t changed much from what it was at Tri-West.
“His ability to communicate and help out on the field has been a big advantage,” Chris Coll said of his son.
It’s also helped Franklin make dramatic improvements on defense. The Grizzly Cubs yielded 45.8 points per game last season overall and 48 per game in Mid-State Conference play. In 2017, they’re allowing 29.1 points a week overall and 23.2 in league games.
Even if those averages take a hit against a high-powered Decatur Central offense tonight, the unit has been upgraded significantly.
“I feel like we’re pretty sound and play pretty physical defensive football,” Chris Coll said.
Football has been a part of Clayton Coll’s life from the beginning. He remembers being on the practice field with his father’s Tri-West teams from the time he could walk, and he watched both of his older brothers, Cody and Casey, suit up for the Bruins. He got to play two years alongside Casey, who is now a freshman wingback at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne.
Being part of a football family has been an interesting experience for Clayton, but it’s one he has no regrets about.
“It has its challenges at times, but it also has its perks,” he said of being a coach’s son. “I get to sit around and listen to football every day, all day, all the time. So growing up around coaches and seeing that side of it changes perspective as a player a little bit and makes it come easier.”
What wasn’t as easy was picking up and leaving the only home he’d known midway through his sophomore year. Both of Clayton’s brothers, and his father, played their entire high school careers at Tri-West.
Chris Coll said that moving his youngest son was the toughest part of the decision to take the Franklin job — but Clayton took the change in stride.
“I had a lot of friends I had to leave at Tri-West,” he said, “but everybody was supportive and understood why my dad was leaving and everything.”
Last spring, Clayton played for the Grizzly Cubs’ boys volleyball team, which eased his transition. By the time football season arrived, he was ready to tackle anything that came his way.
And he generally has — Coll needed seven games in Franklin to make more tackles than he did in his two seasons at Tri-West (88). He’s also forced three fumbles this season, recovered two and intercepted a pass.
Eventually, he’d like to play college football. The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder has long had dreams of playing at the Division I level, but he’s become a bit less picky with time.
“Honestly, I just would rather have my college paid for through football,” Clayton said, “so anywhere I fit is where I fit.”
If he has his way, his long locks will accompany him to the next level as well. Coll’s next haircut, he said, will be far more than just a trim — it’s all or nothing at this point — but he’s trying to postpone that for as long as he can.
“My mom wants me to cut it; she doesn’t like it this long,” Coll said. “But I’m going to try to keep it long as long as I can.”
Clayton Coll has made an immediate impact at Franklin after playing his first two high school seasons at Tri-West. A look at his statistics year by year: