The Franklin Panthers will have 10 returning offensive players this season, a statistic that likely helped the football team gain the number one spot in the pre-season rankings for theWestern North Carolina Athletic Conference. That and the fact that Marquel Manning, the pre-season player of the year according to Western North Carolina coaches, will be at the tailback position.
Manning, along with the other nine starters returning on offense and six on defense, are pegged to put up strong numbers throughout the season, but the star running back is the one that coaches are watching closely this year. He was named as an All-WNC tailback and the 2012 Co-Western North Carolina Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year, titles well earned after setting school records in single- season rushing yardage and touchdowns; 2,364 and 33 respectively. He's close to adding one more record to his name as well. He will begin the 2013 season just 484 yards from being FHS's all-time record holder.
Things will be different this year for the Panthe. Beginning with the fall season, Franklin will be playing in the 2- AA playoffs.
"As far as NCHSAA Classification is concerned, each school’s classification is based on student enrollment," explained Dan Moore with the Macon County School system. "The NCHSAA “realigns” classification every four years, which is necessary due to the ebb and flow of student population throughout the state."
Panthers head coach Josh Brooks anticipates a certain amount of excitement as a result of the switch.
"It won't affect our regular season, but as far as the playoffs are concerned, we don't even know what teams we could play," he said. "It will be new teams though and it's always exciting to play teams that you've never faced before."
Last year's team went 8-4 and 6-1 in the conference, but this year's team could post an even better record when all is said and done – if the preseason rankings are any indication anyway.
“The thing about preseason rankings is that they are just that. We have to go out there during our games and perform because being number one in the preseason doesn't really mean much,” said Brooks. “With all due respect to the rankings, if we're not winning then being ranked number one before the season started didn't amount to much. This is a week by week process.”
Brooks attributes a winning season for the team to three key factors that will span the next several months of football filled Fridays.
“The first thing we have to consider when we navigate our season is how good our opponents are. Each team will bring different challenges that we have to meet and overcome. The second factor is injuries. The best team in the world can fall apart if injuries start occurring at the right times. And the third factor is luck. Luck can affect the outcome of any game. These three factors can make or break a season.”
The first regular game of the season will be played on August 30 at the Panther Pit against the Murphy High School Bulldogs. Murphy has been to three state championships in the last three years and looks to have another strong year ahead of them. According to Brooks they will hit the field with returning players in most of their scoring positions.
“One way that you have to think about it is that when a team goes to the championship game like they have for the past three years, that's enough practice to almost equal a full season of playing,” he said. “I'm not throwing off on any of the other teams that we'll be playing this season, all of the teams that we play are good teams, but Murphy very well could be the best team we'll match up against. It's important to have that test early on. Our players can go out there and play hard and we can come back and improve off of that first outing.”
The Panthers will play their first scrimmage game this week against the Hayesville Yellow Jackets in Hayesville. Next week, the team travels to Rabun County to take on the Wildcats. These meetings will kick off the season that begins on Aug. 30 against the Murphy Bulldogs. The Panthers beat the Bulldogs last year, 42-35. The game should serve as a good test for the team.