Posted: Aug 30, 2018
The Opening Kick
The Franklin College football team begins the quest toward another post-season berth on Saturday night, when they welcome the Eagles of Benedictine University (Ill.) to Faught Stadium for a Saturday night showdown at Elba A. and Gene Portteus Branigin Athletic Field. Saturday night's contest also doubles as the annual Alumni Day, with players from years past being honored throughout the day.
The Eagles are coming off a 2017 season that saw them go 7-3 and finish as runner-up in the competitive Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference with a 5-1 conference record. Benedictine has been picked to finish third in the NACC by the league's coaches heading into the season.
Led by first-year head coach Brad McCaslin, the Eagles return first-team all-conference receiver Brandon Moore, as well as second-team all-conference running back Grant Jochums and lineman Austin Jarnagin. On defense, defensive lineman Evontrae Pierce returns after a season that saw him collect honorable menion all-conference honors.
Junior Grant Klaver is expected to take over as the team's starting quarterback, and will be under center as a starter for the first time in his career. One year ago, the Eagles averaged 328.6 yards per game through the air and 447.1 yards per contest overall.
On the other side of the ball, teams threw for just 206.4 yards per game against a stingy Benedictine defense. Opponents had a little more success on the ground against the Eagles, rushing for 169 yards per game a year ago.
New Year, New Faces
When the Grizzlies take the field on Saturday night, fans will get their first look at a team that features 16 new starters. Offensively, the Grizzlies graduated nine players, including the entire starting backfield and receiving corps. In total, the Grizzlies graduated 89% of their offensive production with eight all-conference players earning their degrees last spring.
Defensively, seven new starters will patrol the field for a Franklin team that limited teams to 27.6 points per game in 2017. Teams ran for 171.2 yards per game last year against the Grizzlies and threw for 277.2 yards per contest.
Although the Grizzlies will feature several new starters, the student-athletes filling those roles are all program veterans. On offense, linemen Matt Anderson and Paul Eisberg return to occupy the right side of the line as the Grizzlies' lone returning starters. Junior Braden Smith takes over at quarterback after two years as the team's primary backup and Jacob Earl assumes duties as the team's feature back after a strong 2017. Seniors Ben Fleet, Ryker Stout and Brad Bonomini are expected to be the team's primary pass catchers this year.
On defense, senior Austin Fleming is fresh off a First Team All-HCAC selection after leading the league with 100 tackles. He will be joined at linebacker by juniors Brayton Shannon and John McKinney to start the year.
Fellow seniors Tyler Reed and Zak Prater collected Second Team All-HCAC honors last year as interior linemen. Flanking them on the edges are juniors Brady and Bryce Hale, who will each be making their first starts on Saturday.
In the secondary, senior David Masayile returns as the team's top corner after starting nine games last year. Junior Alex Frey will line up opposite Masayile at corner while Chaz Hill and Chris Knight will make their first career starts at safety.
For the eighth consecutive year, the Grizzlies are the league coaches' pick to win the HCAC. After their ninth outright HCAC championship in the last 10 years in 2017, Franklin earned 87 points in the pre-season poll and six of the nine first-place votes.
Franklin head coach Mike Leonard enters Saturday's game just four wins away from matching legendary head coach Stuart "Red" Faught for the most coaching wins in program history with 120. The Grizzlies have been exceptionally dominant in HCAC play during Leonard's tenure, and are 86-5 against conference foes over the last 11 years.
Division III Leaders
Last year, the Grizzlies boasted an impressive aerial attack that led the nation in passing yards per game with 407.1. Paired with a steady run game all year, Franklin would go on to lead the country in yards per game with 564.5.
Around the HCAC
Week one features all eight league teams in action around the region. Everyone will play one more non-conference game next week before opening up conference play on Sept. 15. The schedule is as follows:
Thursday, Aug. 30
Manchester at Trine, 7:30 PM
Saturday, Sept. 1
Bluffton at Wooster, 1:30 PM
Albion at Defiance, 1:30 PM
Wilmington at Earlham, 2 PM
Capital at Mt. St. Joseph, 6 PM
Hanover at Centre, 7 PM
Rose-Hulman at #1 Mount Union, 7 PM
Anderson at North Park, 7 PM
Follow the Action Live
Grizzly fans will be able to follow the game online with live video and live stats. Fans will be able to tune into the game online with GrizTV, brought to you by Hubler Automotive Group. Sam Weiderhaft will have all the play-by-play action for all five Franklin home games this year. Stats are available at the top of the page, and in-game updates will be provided on Twitter @FCGrizAthletics.