Last Friday I had the honor of photographing the Maplewood vs. Saegertown game for The Titusville Herald. View more photos by scrolling down and by visiting: https://sayerrich.zenfolio.com/p322763828
At the end of last season Franklin High School football coach Matt Turk said he was going to really emphasize the weight room in the off-season. "We were just getting out muscled," he said.
This summer the players took him up on that offer. He had over 80 kids participate in the weight lifting program. "This was the best I've seen since I got here," Turk said.
Turk, who started a lot of freshmen and sophomores last year, is excited that those players have grown both physically and mentally. "The football acumen is outstanding," he said. "This is the best locker room I've had. The players are very respectful, above average."
He also credits the summer seven-on-seven games he arrange to play against top programs like Austintown Fitch and Sharon high schools. The Franklin kids who played got to see a different level of the skill. "Iron sharpens iron," he said, emphasizing a team only gets better when the play teams above their ability and not below.
For the 2022 season, Turk has six seniors, 16 juniors and 12 sophomores, most who have experience from last year. He picked up two seniors who haven't played in a few years are a huge pick up for the program. Wrestlers Jonah Heckathorne and Kadin Karns played when they was younger, Turk said, and their athletism, size and strength are great additions.
Heckathorne will be a defensive end and give added strength to the center of the offensive line at guard. Karns will also make it more difficult for runners going around the end as outside linebacker with speed and strength. He will add both of those attributes to the offense as a power back running and blocking for the speedy sophomore Toby Sanchez, who has returned this year bigger and stronger.
Senior Hunter Marsteller will return as quarterback and with junior Cole Buckley at wide receiver and senior Drew Wilkinson at tight end, he should have some targets with good hands. Turk calls Wilkinson a "hungry hippo" because he just always wants the ball.
Turk will also be taking over the play calling after last season's offensive coordinator, Jason Wargo, took the head coaching job at Maplewood.
Adding Karns and Heckathorne to the defense also gives returning defensive coordinator and assistant head coach Paul Weidman some added strength and possibilities. During a recent practice Weidman repeated the mantra "Let's raise the standard" as he worked to motivate and focus his players.
Turk is excited the program has show signs of growth. More than 40 seventh and eighth grade joining the program his year. "We didn't have enough helmets," Turk said, noting this was a good problem to figure out.
Turk is hoping the experience and leadership of his captains Marsteller, Wilkinson and fellow senior Jackson Ewing will filter down to the underclassmen. "I have to repeat this... the football acumen is above average," he said.
The Knights, who have only been able to muster one win in each year for the last two seasons, open against the Rockets. Franklin beat Titusville in Turk's first game as head coach two years ago. "I feel we match up pretty well against them," he said optimistically of the on-the-road kickoff game scheduled for Saturday, August 27.
Overall, the road will not be an easy one this year. They are thrust into a league with rival Oil City, Warren, General McLane, Conneaut and a very tough Meadville squad that looks poised for another deep playoff run. Turk said he expects Oil City to be a better team than last year when the previous three-peat D10 champs had a rebuilding season.
Turk sees his role as head coach is beyond the wins and losses. "The wins will come, these kids know the program. (We coaches) are passionate about these kids on and off the field. It's not about the Xs and Os, it's about the Jimmys and Joes. We want them to be the best young men on and off the field that they can be."
He is excited for this year's team because many of them have not felt the thrill of victory very often. "They are hungry," he said. "This is the most complete program I've had so far. There is a lot of energy and excitement."
Route 8 Rivalry is a website dedicated the long history of the Oil City and Franklin football rivalry by former sports editor Penny Weichel. It is an amazing labor of love and valuable resource for history. It is our go-to here at 8and322.com.