By VINCE PELUSO
After a successful stint in rebuilding the Middlesex (Virginia) football program, coach Josh Franke is ready to return where he feels he belongs — walking the sidelines in Ohio on Friday nights.
“I was born and in raised in Toronto, Ohio and I was born and raised on Ohio football,” Franke (pronounced Frank-EEE) said. “I kind of took to that at a very young age. My dad and all his brothers were players so a love of football just came with my name.”
This fall, Franke will get his first chance to be a head coach in Ohio when he takes over the Edgewood Warriors program, a team fresh of the first playoff berth in school history.
“It’s very exciting,” Franke said. “Edgewood has very strong foundation that was set last year and I hope to continue to build on that.”
Although his coaching career is young, Franke already has a wide variety of coaching experience.
The Otterbein University graduate started his coaching career straight out of college as a wide receivers and freshmen coach at Central Crossing High School in Grove City, Ohio.
From there, he became an offensive coordinator for the Marion Blue Racers of the United Indoor Football League.
It was while there Franke realized he wanted to become a head coach.
“I felt like I had a lot of great ideas and I wanted to be a head coach,” he said. “As an offensive coordinator, you’re not calling the shots. I wanted to be that guy. In a state like Ohio, with such football tradition, there aren’t many high schools looking to hire a 24-year-old with no experience.
“So, I looked all over the country. I had interviews all the way down in Louisiana, I had a few in Virginia and I settled at a very small school (Middlesex) that hadn’t had a winning record in quite some time.”
Admittedly, Franke didn’t know what was waiting for him in Virginia.
“I had no clue what I was walking into, they had no youth program, no middle school program, so the first time they were playing football was ninth grade, so they didn’t even know basic fundamentals,” he said. “I was going from Marion and coaching a guy like Josh Harris, who was a former Heisman candidate at Bowling Green, where you can just draw something up on a board and they’d go run it.
“It was a very different mentality toward football there. They had no booster program. The kids’ mentality was different because they didn’t grow up with football, it was more like a hobby. That was very different for me coming from Ohio where I didn’t know anything other than football.”
In his two years with the program, Franke was able to start a youth program, booster club and the Chargers reached the playoffs this past season, the highlight of which was winning their last two games, 52-14 and 63-7.
Franke’s offense produced two 1,000-yard rushers and one of whom, Ryheem Lockley, went on to receive a football scholarship from the University of Miami (Fla.).
“I feel like we did get things turned around,” he said. “I would like to say we really started to turn the ship around. We didn’t have the greatest record (4-17) and you’re never satisfied unless you win a state championship, but I think the ship started to be righted and we were constantly improving.
“We broke a lot of school records and had the second-ranked offense in the region. I’m proud of what we accomplished, however you can’t replace Ohio football. Being from, and living in Ohio, I just really wanted to get back. That always was my plan.”
While Franke is proud of his past, he’s even more excited about his future.
After watching film from last season’s Edgewood squad, Franke sees a lot of potential for the 2013 campaign.
“I think last year, they set a very strong foundation to build and it’s only going to continue to get better,” he said. “From what I’ve evaluated on film, there are a lot of key starters back and a large senior class that will contribute this year. Three out of our five starting offensive linemen return. You have so many different kids that can be great assets such as Matt Fitchet, Anthonie Magda, Riis Smith, Connor McLaughlin, Anthony Monda.
“Guys like that are only going to help you continue to grow. They’ll be one more year experienced and we’re going to make that push to where we’re hosting a playoff game and we win that first playoff game. That’ll be the goal from Week 1.”
Balance will be the name of the game for Franke’s offense.
While he looks to run a multiple set offensively, it won’t include any of the robust-T formations that the Warriors ran almost exclusively under former coach Dom Iarocci.
“To be completely honest, I’m a coach that coaches to our personnel,” he said. “In high school, I really believe you have to have a strong running game, so we’ll try to establish that. But I’m more of a multiple offensive look coach. There will be no wing T or double wing or single wing. You’ll see a lot of pro style, get in the shotgun and throw it around some.
“Last year, my quarterback at Middlesex set a school record in passing and we had two 1,000-yard rushers, so we were very balanced. I’ll try to be 50-50 and be as unpredictable as possible.”
Defensively, unpredictability will be the name of the game as well as the Warriors will run a 3-5.
“We’ll be run out of a base 3-5, in that 3-5 we’ll try to create confusion with the opposing offense,” he said. “It’s very hard on opposing lines to pick up blitzes because of the stacked linebackers. Just like on offense, we’re always trying to dictate to the opposing team.”
So far, Franke said he’s been thrilled with the support he’s received from the Edgewood community during his three trips to Ashtabula County.
“I love the community, they’re very supportive, the staff at Edgewood and the administration has been very supportive and welcoming,” he said. “The whole community came out the last time I was up and they made my wife and daughter feel right at home. That’s exciting to me.
“This is obviously a community that embraces football and wants to be good and cares about it. That’s very important to me.”
Franke’s wife of three years, Kendra, and their 2-month old daughter, Alexis, are looking forward to becoming members of that Edgewood community.
For Franke, the support of his wife has been important in his coaching career.
“She told me the other day she’s moved probably seven times in the past three years for me,” he said with a laugh. “When we got married, she was a big football fan before and she still is. I make the analogy that if I’m the football player’s second father, she might as well be their second mother because she’s at every game and function, practices, whatever. Anything she can do to help, she wants to be involved. Her commitment is as big as mine.”
Franke won’t be leaving Virginia until the school year is out, but he said he’ll be working diligently to make sure his team is ready come June.
“I’ve got a number of 7-on-7s planned and I’ll be making trips up for the weekends and doing as much as I can from down here in the spring to make sure we’re ready,” he said. “I already started piecing together the summer schedule and putting the playbook together. I think, honestly, from coming into such a challenging position at Middlesex, this move will be a lot easier with a program with a foundation set and guys who have been playing football for years.
“It’s very encouraging to work with kids that have been playing through youth and this senior class will be the first class to play all the way through midget ball. That will make my job a whole lot easier as far as the transition.
“The key is that we’ll be starting 7-on-7s in June, we’ll almost be ahead of the game once August gets here.”