A day with John Franco and the Golden Eagle football team

(Editor’s note: The following is the final installment in a three-part series detailing a single day in the life of someone in the Northern Blair County region. You’ve already seen what it takes to be a municipal leader of a community and a YMCA day camp director. Today, readers learn what it’s like to spend some time on the practice field with Tyrone High School varsity coach John Franco and the Golden Eagles. The response of readers tell us here at The Daily Herald that the series is enjoyable and we plan to publish similar stories in the future. If you have a comment on the series, please contact us at

It has been a day that many of the 35 young men have looked forward to since the 2002 football season ended in the mud pit at Forest Hills last November. It is almost fitting, that on day one of Tyrone football camp for 2003, the field conditions were almost identical.
On a rain-soaked Monday morning, coach John Franco and his staff start the day with a meeting at 7 a.m. to go over, in detail, the plans for the day: defense in the morning, special teams in the second session and offense in the afternoon.
As Franco and his coaches meet, a couple players at a time start walking down the hill to the field house. By 7:30 a.m., all the players are gathered for the morning meeting with the coach. Coach Franco tells the team what he expects from them that day and how it fits into the plans for the season.
At precisely 8 a.m., the Tyrone Golden Eagles are at the far endzone from the field house in five perfectly formed lines to begin stretching and calisthenics. After the 2003 Golden Eagles complete stretching, Franco and the coaching staff start pursuit drills.
“Get there, get there, get there,” Franco yells as the first defensive unit run to cones set up on the field. Once everyone is in place, the whistle blows and the players hit the ground.
“No team is going to outhustle us this year,” Franco tells his team. “Everyone better be chasing the ball every play. I want 11 people around the ball.”
The second group runs to the cones, but one player doesn’t get to his cone fast enough for the coach.
“Get them up…. down, Get them up… down,” Franco says as the unit does up-downs together. “You have to be quick to the ball. We have to be quicker.”
Within the first 20 minutes of practice, the first up-downs are awarded. When the pursuit drill is completed, Franco blows the whistle and the players move to the next station.
“On the hop,” Franco tells his players. “We run everywhere we go.”
The team breaks into groups. Linemen, linebackers, defensive ends and defensive backs go through different stations. Some work with the two man sled, some work on shedding a block, some work on form tackling. Franco blows the whistle for the players to rotate and when a couple players don’t run to their next station, Franco blows the whistle and starts to say a phrase that would be heard many times throughout the day… “Get them up… down. We run everywhere we go.”
After the up-down’s, the rotation continues.
At 9:15, the moment comes that the team looks forward to every year at camp… board drills.
Two players, one at each end of a 2×4, going man to man against each other. Each player has a name taped on their helmet. Partially so Franco and the staff can learn the names of the sophomores who have joined the team this season.
Some of the names are nicknames that the players or coaches have given each other.
The board drill to watch was with the linemen.
Terry Tate, who has “Office Linebacker” taped on his helmet and Ralph Van Allman who has “OX” on his. Van Allman watched the movie “Stripes” the weekend before camp opened and compared himself to John Candy in the film. True to form, Van Allman put his tape strip on his helmet upside down and it read XO.
Coach John Gressler calls out names two at a time. “Give me the Office Linebacker and OX,” Gressler says. “Van Allman on offense, Tate on defense.” On the snap count, the two mountains collide and battle to the whistle. As they walk away, Tate and Van Allman joke with each other about who got the best of who.
On the other side of the field, coach Steve Guthoff is doing the same thing with the linebackers and Franco works with the defensive backs.
As they go through the drill, Franco gives three short blows of the whistle and the team rotates.
Following board drills, Guthoff, the defensive coordinator starts working with the defensive unit. Setting up the base defense for 11 on 11 drills.
“Thud the ball carrier,” Guthoff tells his defensive unit. Thud means hit them, but no tackling.
As team defensive practice gets rolling, on the fifth play, the “look team” breaks a long run.
“How did that happen?” Franco yells to the defense. “Do it again, on the ball. We can’t let holes like that open up.”
Guthoff lines up the defense again and this time the play works as it should.
At 11, defensive practice is over for the morning. The players get a break and in 15 minutes, will return for special teams practice.
As the kids change out of their rain-soaked uniforms into shoulder pads and shorts for special teams, Franco and his staff review the morning practice and plan the special teams drills.
At 11:15, Franco comes running out of the fieldhouse to an awaiting team. If coach Franco has to wait on the players it means up-downs, if the players have to wait on coach Franco, they have to wait.
After working on snaps, punts, place-kicks and catching punts, Franco assigns duties for the punt coverage team, punt team and kickoff team. After a couple times through, special teams end and the players and coaches head to the Bull Pen for lunch.
The upperclassmen ate lunch with their buddies and the coaches discussed the offensive practice that was to start at 3:30 p.m.
“Let’s go! Let’s go!” Franco says as he comes out of the fieldhouse. As the coach jogs to stretching, he passes the entire team. “What’s going on?” said Franco. “Am I that fast? I must be the fastest person here if I am passing all of you…let’s go.”
After stretching, Franco has the team line up across the field and work on snap counts. Quarterbacks Brandon Maceno, Jeremy Myers and Leonard Wilson call out the count, on the snap, the team sprints five yards and lines up again.
On the third snap, Franco wasn’t happy.
“You’re not firing out low enough, get back and do it again,” said Franco. “Get them up…. down.” Five up downs later the snap came, but one player jumped.
“We can’t jump offside,” said Franco. “Get them up…” and by now you know what is next. By the time the team went down the field and back, 50 up-downs were done.
The groups break into individuals. The place to watch for the individual drills was the offensive line. While the quarterbacks were working on their receivers and routes, running backs doing anti-fumble drills, the linemen were working on learning pressure points.
“What are the pressure points?” coach Gressler asked. Van Allman pointed to his elbow. Gressler said “the wrist, elbow and shoulder.”
After going over the pressure points for a few minutes and practicing grabbing them, Gressler had them work on protecting the quarterback. There were two offensive linemen and one defensive lineman. If the d-lineman gets to the quarterback, the two offensive linemen do up-downs.
Tate lined up on defense and Van Allman and Jake Houck on offense. Tate blasted through Van Allman and Houck and next thing you see is Van Allman and Houck doing up-downs.
“This is one of the first time I gave up-downs,” said Gressler. “I think we’ve given more up-downs on the first day this year than in the last five years combined.”
Oklahoma drills were next. Two linemen, one defender and a back, the goal is to open a hole so the back can get through. This is the fiercest hitting drill the Golden Eagles participate in.
“I love Oklahoma drills,” said Tate while waiting for his name to be called.
The coaches got on the running backs to run through the hole and not around the hole.
“What’s the matter, are you afraid to get hit?” the coaches ask. “Run through the hole.”
Running plays with the “Look team” finished up the offensive practice and then conditioning and the line hits the blocking sled.
Day one of football camp was a rain-soaked experience. Each day, the coaches and players look for improvement and both hope by the time they face the Blue Devils on August 29, they will be ready.