FRANKLIN, Ind. – With a bevy of talented and hungry newcomers as well as an offense that returns the bulk of its offense, there's lots of reason for optimism around the Franklin men's soccer team as the team gets set for year two under head coach Cody Graman.
The Grizzlies return 90 percent of their goals from last year's team, and are sure to get a shot in the arm at both ends of the pitch with 15 newcomers to the program that are looking to make an immediate impact on the field.
With so many new bodies in the fold, the focus early in camp has not only been on the team's technical prowess, but making sure that 26 guys come together as soon as possible.
"We've spent just as much time on team bonding activities as we have technical activities," Graman said. "It's tough to get 15 new guys to get caught up and have everything go smooth. We haven't had a chance to go big yet but everything we've done so far has looked promising. Everyone came in to camp fit and really focused on the summer workouts."
Up top, the Grizzlies boast a blend of experience and youth. Senior Sam Stallsmith, junior Mason May and sophomore Jacob Thompson will reprise their roles as attackers with freshman Ian Blaze to push for playing time at forward. May led all Grizzlies with five goal a year ago and his 11 points tied for the team lead.
Senior Luke Oliver is expected to lead the offensive charge from the midfield after a 2017 that saw him tie for the team lead with 11 points (3 G, 5 A). Joining him in the attacking midfield are juniors Jordan Thomas and Cody Coppess, with several freshmen in the mix for playing time.
"We brought back a lot of guys that saw important minutes and we've got freshman coming in that were on very competitive and successful high school and club teams," Graman continued. "We've got guys that have experience at the collegiate level that can teach our freshmen how to prepare and be successful and that should lead to a dynamic attack."
Defense has been the biggest focus for the Grizzlies in practice thus far, as the team looks to replace their starting goalkeeper, one of their starting center backs and top holding midfielder. Senior Trey Floyd, sophomore Weston DeShon and sophomore Trevor Bray all saw time on the back line last year. Senior Matt Powell and junior Andrew Vidal serving as the team's top returning holding midfielders, giving Graman plenty of veterans to help usher in what is shaping up to be a young defensive unit.
In goal, the Grizzlies will turn to a pair of freshmen in Elliott Clark and Jake Hendricks as the final line of defense. No matter who steps on the field for the Grizzlies on opening day, the Franklin bench boss knows the focus on defense and defensive depth will lead to fewer goals conceded on game day.
"Our focus has been to stay focused and disciplined on defense," Graman added. "We have two talented freshmen goalkeepers that came in ready to win the job. We did lose two important defenders in the middle but we've got guys that have stepped up and that want to fill those positions. It makes my job that much tougher on game day, but it's a nice problem to have."
With the start of their season just days away, the Grizzlies will have a few more training sessions to set their starting lineup. It's the last chance for the Grizzlies to continue the fierce battles that have ensued all camp, giving their head coach tough decisions to make come game time.
"Competition breeds the best talent and now that we have guys battling at each position, it has brought out the best in our guys. We're excited to see what we've got to offer when we step onto the field for opening day."
Franklin kicks off the regular season on Friday, Aug. 31, with a road match at Wabash College. Start time is set for 5:00 p.m.