Adam Reese’s first 12 months as head football coach at Franklin Community High School proved monumentally unforgettable, an impressive 3-0 start followed by losses in five of Franklin’s final seven games.
Then came the June tragedy involving two would-be defensive starters, linebacker Jason Moran and linebacker/safety Michael Chadbourne, both of whom lost their lives attempting to save the life of a friend in the Big Blue River in Edinburgh.
As Franklin prepares for Friday’s opener at Seymour, some would contend Reese’s team is already 0-2.
But there are games to be played, and the Grizzly Cubs intend to play them with pride, togetherness and a heightened sense of purpose.
“Obviously, we’ve been through a lot this summer. I think that sort of changes your perspective a little bit,” Reese said. “What I’m proudest of is how our team as a group has come together and begun to think about more than just themselves.
“I do think that we try to teach doing that, but when a situation occurs like what happened this summer it becomes more real for the kids. Now they are able to process that lesson a little bit more quickly.”
A 5-5 record that shouted mediocrity last season belied the fact the Cubs, by year’s end, had outscored the opposition by 81 points.
Although graduation took a toll on an offense that averaged 28 points per game last season, one of the better building blocks returns in 6-foot, 200-pound senior center Cole Edwards.
He’ll be joined on the line by senior tackles Tyler Hendricks, Xakari Berry and Andrew Hall along with guards J.K. Tucker and Dilon Byrum.
Most carries in the Cubs’ run-dominated flexbone triple-option offense will be split five ways between halfbacks Tyler Adkins, Chad Williams, Ryan Torrance and Phoenix Campos along with fullback Jacob Stevenson.
The 5-9, 185-pound Stevenson rushed for 396 yards and five touchdowns in only 39 carries last season with Williams chipping in 384 yards and six scores. Williams also snagged six receptions for 139 yards in an offense that had only 66 pass attempts all season.
T.J. Ahlefeld, a 5-8, 160-pound sophomore, will be the Cubs’ starting quarterback. Senior Mark Nally lines up at split end.
“I think offensively we are ahead of where we were last year,” Reese said. “Sometimes it’s hard to say how much because we do have different personnel and we’re trying to do a few different things because of some of the people we have.”
The lone returning starter for the defense is 6-3, 220-pound senior end Nick Welch, who tallied 41 tackles last season. Sophomore Alex VanDyke is the other end, while senior Dylan Blackwell and junior Mitchell Thompson are the tackles.
Franklin’s linebacking unit is led by senior Drew Utterback playing weakside, junior Zach Dowell in the middle and junior Austin Frankl at strong side. Manning the secondary are corners Campos and Alex Blackwell and safeties Williams and senior Damon Munn.
“Defensively, I do believe we’re ahead, but with 10 new players it sometimes doesn’t feel like it because it’s new guys trying to figure out their way, and they don’t have the game experience,” Reese said.
Handling punting and kicking chores is junior Justin Beasley.
Given the wave of emotions players, parents and coaches involved with the school in general have already endured, it’s difficult to say whether these Cubs can post the football program’s first winning season since a 6-3 finish in 1996.
Rest assured, all involved will be trying.
“In the off-season I did talk to our seniors quite a bit about what they wanted to accomplish,” Reese said. “What we think is reasonable is to compete for both a conference title and a sectional title. Both of those things have either never happened, or it’s been a really long time since they’ve happened here. We just want to compete.
“If we can compete week in and week out and play four straight quarters, that’s a huge thing. On an in-season type basis, we have one goal every week and that’s to go 1-0.”