Running on inspiration

Published 7:02 pm Thursday, November 20, 2008

FRANKLIN—On a warm August night, the Franklin High School football team was getting ready to take the field for the first time in 2008 against Northampton High School. A jersey with the No. 1 and a pair of cleats were hung on the fence on the Broncos sideline.

Over three months later, at dusk on a chilly November night, the Franklin football team completed a practice session in preparation for Saturday’s Group A Region A Division 1 championship game against Colonial Beach, sacrificing their comfort not only for themselves, but for three individuals who have helped fuel a fire under these Broncos.

The No. 1 jersey is that of Josh Willis, a former teammate who died last spring before he would graduate. The cleats are those of Dr. Charles Green, an assistant coach who died shortly thereafter.

Along the way, Franklin picked up another inspiration. Starting center Carl Harris was seriously injured and has been in a wheelchair the last half of the season. Franklin has played the season dedicated to the fallen comrades, and later on Harris.

The senior leadership of this team gathered in the weight room after Tuesday’s practice to talk about what the inspiration of these three individuals has meant to the team. All agreed it made the squad more hungry.

“It just makes the game a little more intense,” said Donzell Shearin, the starting quarterback. “They are looking down on us and No. 77 (Harris) is on the sidelines. It makes it more intense and the players are more rowdy.”

“We know if Carl could play, he would be out there playing just as hard as us,” said Isaiah Hudson, running back.

“When we look over there (at the jersey and cleats), we just know they are with us and they make us play harder,” said Lacurt Boone, a lineman. “If they were down here, they’d be with us.”

When it was decided to dedicate the season to Willis and Green, head coach Darren Parker said preseason preparations were workman-like because there was no room for excuses.

“The main thing is not one of the guys got tired, even though it was hot and early in the morning. It meant something. If the two individuals that passed away were down here, they would be one of the first ones on the field,” Parker said. “It gave us no room to complain. When it was hot it gave us no room to complain because we are here and they are not. It cut the room for anyone to complain. Cut all the excuses.

“When you dedicate something to somebody, you aren’t giving it up for yourself. You put yourself aside and you put those individuals in front,” Parker added. “We love the two young men who passed away. Carl is still with us and we want to make sure we get it done for those individuals and for ourselves at the same time.”

While other schools get ready for basketball, there are just eight Group A teams left to play this weekend. The chill of fall bites and darkness comes quickly. The Broncos were running drills with just a sliver of sunlight left on Tuesday night, with temperatures in the low 30s.

“Thank God we are here to see it because it is a blessing to be here and to see and to feel it,” Parker said.