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Pigskin Preview: Franco father-son duo lead Golden Eagles

2007 Golden Eagles

First row (left to right) Ballboys: Kaleb Chronister, Zac Snyder and Stevie Franco. Second row: John Franco, Shane Emigh, Shayne Tate, Brock Anders, and Josh Bradley. Third row: Larry Glace, Matthew Murray, John Shaffer, Mark Mingle, Nick Wilson, Brandon Gehret, Dustin Rudasill, Jesse Walk and Corey Barnhart. Fourth row: Jordan Berry, Jarrod Good, Josh Graham, Travis Peterman, Cody Weaver, Jeremy Barlett, Ben Ingle, Ross Black and Jamar Stansbury. Fifth row: Dustin Weaver, Tyler Hertzler, Eric Desch, Levi Reihart, Dustin Lewis, Andrew Clark, Zach Gault, and Quinn Carter. Sixth row: Adam Bonsell, Cody Smith, Shane Walker, Drew Karlson, David Cherry, Mark Bryan and John Hoffman. Seventh row: Ethan Lewis, James Weston, Ridge Colyer, Jared Templeton, Daniel Benson, Thomas Sims and Kegan Fink. Eighth row: Coach Banas, Coach Hildebrand, Coach Yaniello, Coach Franco, equipment manager Al Shoenberger, Coach Guthoff, and Coach Wilson. Ninth row: Coach Verilla, Coach McMonigal, Coach Elvey, trainer Traci Mickey, Coach Gressler and Coach Palfey. (The Daily Herald/Steve Michaels)

For all of his talents as a runner, Tyrone senior Johnny Franco isn’t too shabby as a passer, either.
Last season, the 5-10 running back threw two passes, and completed them both for touchdowns. One came against Bald Eagle Area when starting quarterback Tyler Golden went down with a minor knee injury that kept him out for one series. On a third-and-21 play, he connected with Shayne Tate for a 46-yard score that put BEA away.
A week later, in a 49-18 win over Bellefonte, he threw to Justin Schopp for a 54-yard touchdown on a halfback pass.
Call it a superior athlete putting all of his wares on display. Call it a player with an uncanny knack for the big play coming through in the clutch.
Whatever you call it, it’s not something that will be on display in any great quantity in 2007, despite the seeming inevitability in the off-season that Franco would take over as the Eagles’ new signal caller in his senior season.
Considering Franco rushed for 1,651 yards and scored 27 touchdowns as Tyrone’s feature back in 2006, it’s hard to argue with coach John Franco’s personnel decision. Instead of his son stepping in for the graduated Tyler Golden – who passed for over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns last season – it will be sophomore Levi Reihart taking the reins.
Reihart will be the third sophomore to start at quarterback for Franco at Tyrone, joining Jarrod Anderson (1994) and Leonard Wilson (2003). And while each of them won two District 6 championships apiece and rewrote the Eagles’ all-time passing records, no one is asking Reihart to do as much.
\”He’s got a long way to go, but all we’re asking him to do is to progress little by little every practice,\” said coach Franco. \”He’s done a good job with that so far.\”
He’s done well enough that his position isn’t even Franco’s biggest concern. That, instead, would be the offensive line, where graduation took four regulars from the Eagles’ rotation in 2006, including starting center Josh Wright along with Tyler Hoover, a three-year starter on offense who was also a two-time All-State defensive tackle.
It’s the group that will replace those faces that received the majority of Franco’s attention through summer workouts.
\”Our tradition has been great quarterbacks and great running backs, but we’ve had some great offensive lines over the years, too,\” said Franco. \”This year, we’re replacing five of our top six positions on the line and that’s taken a lot of our focus.\”
Luckily for the Eagles, they’re not in the position of putting in four or five players who have never set foot on a varsity field before. Senior left tackle Nick Wilson has been a contributor on the line since he was a sophomore. Right guard Jarrod Good came on strong near the end of last season as a sophomore, mostly as a defensive tackle. Senior center Brock Anders spelled Wright at times in 2007, and senior left guard Josh Bradley – a converted running back – was a big part of Tyrone’s defensive line as a junior.
And then there’s junior Matt Murray, who emerged early in his sophomore season to start at right guard and become one of the top linemen on a team that featured two first team conference all-stars.
Juniors Larry Glace and Dustin Weaver will add depth to the line rotation.
So while most of the group is new to starting at their current offensive positions, they’re not new to the challenges of a 40-minute varsity football game.
But that doesn’t mean molding them into a cohesive unit hasn’t been a challenge.
\”It’s been a big project, but everyone has worked extremely hard,\” Franco said. \”I appreciate how hard they’ve worked. I told them that I think they will eventually develop into a pretty good unit, but with our schedule, you can’t wait too long.\”
One thing the group has in its advantage is the player they will be blocking for most, because as Johnny Franco demonstrated as a junior, he doesn’t need much more than a crease to take a simple dive and turn it into a big play.
His numbers from a year ago are even more impressive when you consider that for 10 of the 13 games he started, Franco split carries with Tyler Gillmen, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards himself after missing the start of the season with mono. He ran for over 100 yards 10 times, including a career-high 222 yards on 23 carries in a rain-soaked 21-14 victory over Penns Valley in Week 9.
In a year of highlight reel plays, Franco best showed the skills he’ll need in the early part of 2007 in Week 7 against Bishop Guilfoyle, when, with the Eagles backed to the three-yard line, he took a simple off-tackle play designed to give Tyrone room to punt and broke containment. He then out-sprinted the defense on the way to a 97-yard touchdown – the longest of his career.
He will be joined in the backfield by junior fullback Mark Mingle, who ran for 151 yards on 33 carries last season, when he started two games after Johnny Barlett went down with a season-ending injury, along with senior Jesse Walk and junior Jeremy Barlett.
At receiver, the Eagles return three players with game experience, including Tate, who last season hauled in 11 passes for 255 yards and two touchdowns opposite record-setter Justin Schopp. Shane Emigh and Brandon Gehret will also see action at receiver.
Junior Johnny Shaffer – who last season kicked 54 extra-points and three field goals – will be the Eagles’ starting tight end after coming in on double-tight situations as a sophomore. Junior Ben Ingle will play opposite Shaffer in Tyrone’s double-tight formations this seasons.
But while coach Franco’s offense has the potential to be something special, he’s \”excited about the defense\” because even more experience returns on that side of the ball. But again, he said, \”the key is getting the line intact.\”
Who will fill out the defensive line, and when they will play, could change from series to series or play to play, because Franco and defensive coordinator Steve Guthoff have for years committed to putting their best players in key positions at the right time. Shaffer, Good and Bradley all started on the defensive line at one time or another last season, while Emigh, Tate and Johnny Franco started every game as part of Tyrone’s secondary.
This season, Ingle and Gehret will also see time in the secondary, while coach Franco said Emigh will \”be playing everywhere,\” as will Tate and Johnny Franco.
\”Emigh is so versatile, he can play anywhere,\” Franco said. \”You might see him lining up at strong safety, linebacker, or safety. The same goes for Johnny and Shayne Tate. All three of them are hybrid-type players. Their abilities allow them to play just about anywhere.
Mingle and Walk will play at linebacker, as will Shaffer in certain situations.
\”On defense, we try to say, ‘Who are the 11 best players and how can we get them on the field?’ That kind of approach gives you flexibility.\”
The numbers on that defensive philosophy don’t lie. In 2006, Tate had five tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions. Franco had four tackles for loss, a sack and five takeaways, and Emigh had six tackles for loss, an interception and one sack.
Shaffer, meanwhile, was second on the team only to Hoover in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (6).
The initial challenge for Tyrone will be an always daunting early-season schedule, which opens with backyard rival Bellwood-Antis on the road, and shifts to Class AAA power Huntingdon at home in Week 2.
If the Eagles can make it past those two games unscathed, they’ll be set up to challenge the school record for consecutive wins, which currently stands at 29 (1946-1948). Tyrone’s last regular season loss was September 30, 2004, on the road against Philipsburg-Osceola, giving them a streak that stood at 23 when the regular season ended last year with a 35-7 win over Johnstown.
The second challenge will be traversing a newly aligned MAC Nittany Division schedule that now includes a trip to Roaring Spring to play Central on October 26.
Other challenges will come off the field and in the athletic office. Tyrone will have to find a replacement game in Week 10 for the Trojans, who reneged on their two-year contract with the Eagles, and, according to Franco, never contacted the school about the switch. He learned of it in mid-July when a reporter contacted him to say Johnstown’s schedule didn’t include the Eagles.
This season, unlike a year ago, Week 10 games will count as points towards the playoffs, so it’s a conundrum that could cost the Eagles dearly.
\”Right now, we don’t have a Week 10 game,\” said Franco. We have one or two possibilities, but they are remote at best.\”
Franco said the team was considering a Week 10 game at home against a parochial school from Brooklyn, N.Y., or possibly looking to a Class A school that fails to make the playoffs.