FRANKLIN – During Mike Leonard's tenure as the head coach at Franklin, fans have been treated to an up-tempo, high-powered offensive machine that has led the Grizzlies to unprecedented success on the gridiron.
The good news for Franklin fans is that they can expect more of the same in 2017 as the Griz return eight starters from an offense that was one of the nation's best a year ago. Franklin racked up an average of 39.4 points per game a year ago but despite the collection of returners lining up for the Griz in 2017, everyone knows that in order to keep their spot, they need to be sharp during preseason camp.
"We know offense sells the popcorn around here," Head coach Mike Leonard noted. "But the key for us as coaches is to make sure everyone knows their spot is up for grabs after a long layoff. Yes, we have a lot of starters back on the offensive side of the ball but there are a lot of guys that are hungry to earn playing time and that keeps everyone on their toes."
Senior quarterback and two-time HCAC Offensive Player of the Year Chase Burton will be at the helm once again after a stellar junior season that saw him lead the nation in touchdown passes with 42. Burton also finished in the top-10 nationally in passing yards, passing efficiency and completion percentage.
Burton will be flanked by a quartet of players that grabbed at least 29 passes a year ago. First Team All-HCAC selections in Deontez Alexander and Lee Wroblewski, Second Team All-HCAC pick Tanner Wroblewski and fellow wideout Brad Bonomini give their All-American signal caller no shortage of options when he drops back to pass.
The Grizzlies will have a slew of players that are looking for an increased role in the passing game in 2017. With a total of 18 receivers on the roster heading into the fall, the Griz will have no shortage of players to turn to on an offense that led all of Division III in passing offense a year ago.
In order for to put up big numbers once again, the Grizzlies' offensive line will play a key role in keeping the senior quarterback upright and clearing holes for the running backs. Seniors Samm Hayes and Sam Burck are fresh off junior seasons that earned them First Team All-HCAC selections and fellow senior Landon Johnson returns as a three-year starter at center.
Juniors Matthew Anderson, Gary Fisher and Austin Woiteshek join the Griz as transfers and bring collegiate experience to the trenches. There will be no shortage of depth for the Griz up front as 18 players will compete for playing time, giving the Franklin coaching staff plenty of options come game day.
Who they'll be clearing holes for, however, is yet to be determined. Franklin will have a new feature running back in 2017 following the graduation of First Team All-HCAC selection Ty'Ronte Files. Senior Jordan Brown's 35 carries are the most among all Franklin returners, with seniors Tanner Kameda & Jimmy Phillips, as well as sophomores Jacob Earl & Payton Healy all seeing action in the backfield a year ago.
Senior Nick Uhl, juniors Tommy Waites, Brayton Shannon & Ryan Arihood, sophomore Austin Grunden and freshman Jaylen Adkins will all compete for touches. Just like the rest of the positions on offense, having lots of options gives the Franklin coaching staff the chance to throw lots of different looks at their opponents.
"We have a lot of guys that have been staples of this program for years and they're going to be fighting for spots with the guys coming in and coming back," Leonard added. "We really feel like we're going to be strong up and down the lineup and every position battle is going to be a fight. Everyone is here ready to make an impact. All of our offensive units are strong and it's all about who's going to step up and play."
Check back with FranklinGrizzlies.com on Wednesday for part two of the football season preview highlighting the Grizzlies' defense and special teams units.