PREVIEW, Part Two | Defense, Special Teams to Feature New Faces in 2018

Zak Prater (#68) is one of three all-conference players back on defense in 2018
Zak Prater (#68) is one of three all-conference players back on defense in 2018

FRANKLIN, Ind. – Just like their counterparts on offense, there will be plenty of turnover on the defensive side of the ball for the Grizzlies in 2018.

Franklin returns four starters, including a trio of all-conference players on defense, but the team will still be tasked with replacing seven starters from a year ago, which includes four all-conference players. But the battle for playing time has brought out the best in the defense, and Grizzly head coach Mike Leonard has been pleased with the intensity being brought on the defensive end every day in camp.

"We're really pleased with the way everyone has performed on the defensive side of the ball so far," Leonard said. "There were plenty of positions up for grabs coming into camp and our guys have battled for those positions. I'm excited to watch them grow into their roles and we've seen a lot of guys step in and make plays against our offense in practice."

The group with the most coming back is in the front seven, where Second Team All-HCAC defensive tackles Tyler Reed and Zak Prater are set to anchor the middle of the line. Those two will be joined on the line by program mainstays like Bryce Hale, Brady Hale, Brock Ashworth, Ian Jenks and Pat Cain. The Grizzlies boast 23 defensive linemen on the roster, more than any position group on the team.

Franklin's linebacking corps features First Team All-HCAC selection Austin Fleming, who is coming off a 100-tackle campaign from the middle linebacker position. Logan Hale, Brayton Shannon and Bryan Wells all saw considerable playing time last year, and will be pushed for playing time by a hungry group of young linebackers looking to crack the lineup.

The secondary will feature the most turnover, with three seniors and two all-conference performers from a year ago lost to graduation. Senior David Masayile is the lone starter back in the secondary, and is coming off a year where he had 28 tackles and three pass break-ups. Seniors Chaz Hill and Tim Kreczmer are both three-year veterans looking to earn snaps, and are joined by juniors Alex Frey, Jacob Ferguson, Chris Knight and John McKinney to make up a veteran secondary.

Senior Elliott Parmer and sophomore Evan Stambaugh make the switch to the defensive backfield after spending time on offense a year ago.

The kicking game will also feature turnover, following the graduation of all-conference specialist Stephen Colligan. Freshmen Carter Brown and Casey Smith are currently locked in a battle for who will be the starting kicker come opening night.

No matter which eleven Grizzlies trot out on the field on opening night, they will all step on to the field with a trust in each other, forged by the battles waged in camp.

"We've developed a mantra of confident execution," Leonard noted. "We tell our guys to know not just their assignment when they get out on the field but everyone else and that goes for everyone in our lineup. When we understand the concept of everyone on the field, it allows us to play faster and that translates into wins."

Franklin kicks off the 2018 season on Saturday, Sept. 1, when they take on Benedictine (Ill.) under the lights at Faught Stadium in Franklin. Kick-off is set for 6:00 p.m.