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Dalton Cochran (11) makes a crucial interception in last year’s WNCAC championship decider. Cochran will be taking over quarterback duties this year for the Panthers, a position that he played two seasons ago.Coach: “We’ve adopted the theme ‘finish strong.’”

Last year, the Franklin Panther's varsity football team had a remarkable regular season posting an 11-0 record for just the second time in school history. As a result they were able to lay claim to the Western North Carolina Athletic Conference championship.

After a season that was plagued with injuries to several key players on the team, and despite being able to navigate the season while dodging some close calls, the team fell to Parkwood High School in the first round of 2-A state playoffs.

“We've told the players not to dwell on the past,” said head coach Josh Brooks. “But I do think they've adopted a theme to finish strong whether it's in the weight room or at practice. You try to learn from some of your letdowns and that was obviously a let down last year.”

According to Brooks, this year's team has been extremely impressive despite losing such stand-outs from last year’s squad like Marquel Manning, Daniel Marr and Zane Fox. After all, they still have solid returners in Jeremiah Young and Trey Maslin, among others.

“I feel really good about this year's team. The character and the internal leadership of theteam is strong. I feel good about our specialty positions like quarterback, tailback and wide-outs. I feel good about our secondary. We lost heavy on our defensive and offensive fronts. It's going to take some time to improve and get better but that will come with game time pressure and reps. But I really like what I've seen,” said Brooks.

Last season, Young led the conference in rushing yards totaling 1,788 and 28 touchdowns while also being named Defensive Player of the Year. This year he has already earned the honor of being named the 2A/3A preseason Player of the Year.

Jeremiah Young is looking to have another productive year. He was chosen as 2A/3A preseason Player of the Year.“I think Jeremiah is very unique in that for one he will be a four-year starter for varsity,” Brooks says about his co-captain. “He's got a legitimate chance of being the school's all time leading rusher and tackler. That in itself is really special. I can't say enough good things about him. He's as good a person and as good a student as he is football player and we all know what kind of player he is. And he's the type of player who wants no credit for the things he's done. He really deserves every good thing that happens to him.”

Like most high school teams across the country, many of these teammates have been together since youth league football, a characteristic that is especially noticeable in this group.

“This team has been a lot of fun to be around as a coach,” Brooks said. “They have meshed very well and as I said, the internal leadership is as good as I've ever seen while I've been here at Franklin and that speaks volumes.”

The Panthers are already looking like the team to beat with WNCAC preseason polls ranking them number one in the conference with Young being named as the 2A/3A preseason player of the year. But with all of these preseason predictions, fans of the team should have a better idea of what the season may look like after yesterday’s scrimmage at Irwin and again when they host the Rabun County Wildcats in a scrimmage game tomorrow (Friday) at the Panther Pit.

“You're going to get positives and negatives from any scrimmage since there's no pressure to win,” said Brooks. “You do the things on the field that you need to see against live action. We need to see if we can execute the things that we're trying to accomplish.”

Their next game will kick off the season when they travel to Murphy to take on the Bulldogs for the third straight year. Murphy is the defending 1A state champions. Franklin's first home game will take place on Sept. 5 at the Panther Pit. It will start at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available for purchase at the entrances.

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