Football Preview 2017: Franklin ascends to leadership role for Falcons

Central's Declan Franklin sprints during a drill in a recent practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – When Declan Franklin hit the field for preseason practice ahead of his sophomore season with Central High School’s football team in 2016 – his first year at the varsity level – he did so eager to establish himself as a candidate for solid playing time.

Doing so required him to become acclimated to the jump from junior varsity. The physicality was more intense, he recalled earlier this month. More work was required on a daily basis. Each day was a fight for playing time on Friday nights.

Franklin soaked up all the knowledge he could early last season, and showed the Falcons’ coaching staff enough in preseason camp to earn him a spot as Central’s starting right tackle and a regular contributor on the defensive line.

Now a varsity veteran with a defined role as the 2017 season approaches, Franklin said his mindset in preseason practice has been a bit different.

“Now I’m one of the guys that’s teaching the younger guys this is what you’ve gotta do every day, that kind of thing,” Franklin said. “So that part of practice is different. Now I’m not absorbing all that information, now I’m kind of dispersing that information.”

That role is one that Franklin has embraced, quite emphatically, according to Falcons head coach Mike Yew, who labeled the 6-foot, 220-pound junior as Central’s hardest worker early in preseason camp.

“He leads by example. He leads by voice. He was our every day in the weight room this summer kid,” Yew said. “He works every chance he gets. We use the statement, every play is an opportunity to get better and he embraces that and he goes hard every play. So he’s been our leader both on and off the field.”

That title means big responsibilities are in store for Franklin, whom Yew said would likely be one of the Falcons’ few two-way starters in 2017.

Offensively, Franklin has moved from right tackle to right guard, the spot previously held by Alex Sibert, who earned second team VHSL Group 2A All-State recognition last season before graduating last June. On the defensive line, Franklin – who recorded 23 tackles (10 solo) in 2016 – will likely start at defensive end, Yew said, but could see action as the starting strong-side defensive tackle as well.

On both sides of the ball Franklin has showed no signs of “leveling off” and continues to make strides in his improvement as a player, Yew said.

“He just gets off the ball. That’s his biggest thing. He is in good shape. He runs. He takes care of his body. He lifts very hard. But his biggest thing is his get-off,” said Yew. “He can explode off the ball on both sides, and that’s probably his biggest asset.”

That explosiveness has served Franklin well on the Falcons’ offensive line. While he prefers defense because it’s more “fun and physical,” Franklin said he is a better player on the offensive side of the ball, as he excels in the mental challenges that come with blocking schemes.

Last season Franklin, a second team All-Bull Run District pick, helped pave the way for a Falcon offense that averaged 257 yards rushing per game, the top mark among local teams.

Carston Shockey’s 1,357 rushing yards in 2016 also led the area, marking the third time in the last four seasons that a Central running back has posted the top rushing mark among local backs.

“You have to have pride in what the guys before us have done, all those guys that have played and were great players,” Franklin, one of four returning starters along the Falcons’ offensive line, said of Central’s ability to run the football, “and you kind of have a certain expectation where the past five or so years … we’ve been able to successfully ground and pound and beat teams. That’s something you have in the back of your head every down, that I can’t let those guys down in the past that have been able to do it. I need to carry on this tradition.”

As Central gets set to kick off its new season with a home game against Skyline on Aug. 25, Yew said there is nothing he would like to see Franklin change during his junior season.

“He’s a good kid. I’ve had him in class. I’m gonna have him in class this year. He’s a polite young man. He does what is expected of him as an athlete, as a gentleman, as a student,” Yew said. “He constantly does what is expected in every aspect of his life.”