Broncos look to build through ground game

Published 6:30 pm Wednesday, August 30, 2023

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Franklin High School’s varsity football team experienced growth last year during Lamont Hill’s first season as head coach, and the expectations that helped drive that improvement remain constant this year as well.

“The expectations are going to remain the same; Salem in December is the expectation,” Hill said, referencing the site and time period of the Virginia High School League Class 1 state championship game. “We did improve last year, made the playoffs, so now we just want to continue.”

The Broncos, who finished 2-9 and missed the postseason in 2021, went 4-7 in 2022, including an appearance in the Region 1B playoffs.

Franklin will forge a path this year without some key players who graduated, like the do-everything standout Derrick Perry, who Hill described as the heart and soul of the 2022 Broncos; Shawn Battle, who provided leadership along both the offensive and defensive lines; and Jordan Myrick, who contributed substantially at many different positions.

The 2023 Broncos are heavy on juniors, followed by sophomores and freshmen, and light on seniors.

Players will be putting into motion a change that Hill has made on offense.

“We’re going to feature the ground game a lot more,” he said.

This new offense is the product of Franklin Offensive Coordinator Gregory Watford, who Hill noted has 38 years of coaching experience, along with success in North Carolina with this design.

“I think we have the kids to run his offense,” Hill said.

Among the Broncos expected to lead on the field are junior quarterback/safety Altavis Turner, who is a returning starter.

“The decisions that he makes from that quarterback position will be key to the success of the offense and the running game,” Hill said.

The coach noted that junior running back/cornerback Travis Mabry Jr. has emerged after a great offseason, and Hill said he has 100% faith in Mabry that he can help carry the load this year.

Kevin Williams created excitement last year, as a junior, with the running ability that he showcased, but injuries helped limit his exposure.

“He didn’t carry it as much last year, but senior year, (we’re) looking for big things out of him,” Hill said.

The coach also highlighted two linemen now in their junior years, starting with Thomas Hughes, who has come on strong in the offseason.

“Between camps and the weight room, that’s where he spends his time, same with Ahmad McNeil,” Hill said.

Reflecting on Franklin’s schedule this season, Hill noted that all of the games could be highlighted, but the initial contests drew his first comments, starting with the season opener Thursday, Aug. 31, against visiting Amelia County High School. 

“They’re going to come in tough considering we went to their place last year and did the unexpected,” Hill said, referencing the Broncos’ 28-21 victory over Amelia in 2022. “So that’s going to be a tough test out of the gate.

“And then the following week, we travel to Colonial Beach, and they’ve always been a thorn in our sides,” he added.

The coach said he expects Essex High School to be tough, but he also anticipates his team will show growth in its mindset with regard to this matchup.

The Broncos’ game against rival Sussex Central High School will be a battle, as would a potential playoff rematch, Hill said. 

He also noted that another battle will await Franklin at the end of the regular season when it faces rival Southampton High School.

“We can’t take a week off,” Hill said.

Kickoff for the Broncos on Thursday is set for 7 p.m.