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Game of the Week Preview: Lorena vs. Franklin

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Posted at 10:19 AM, Aug 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-28 23:55:04-04

FRANKLIN, Texas —

For a recap of the game, click here.

Texas high school football season officially begins Friday night for 1A-4A high schools across Central Texas, including Franklin and Lorena, who will square off in the first Red Zone Game of the Week.

The two teams have squared off each of the last four seasons, with the Leopards taking the last three contests.

Kickoff for the Game of the Week is in Franklin at 7:30 p.m.

Franklin Lions (0-0):

The Franklin Lions enter the 2020 season with high expectations. After losing in the area round to Whitney in 2019, the Lions return 15 starters and are ranked No. 8 in Dave Campbell Football Magazine's Class 3A-II rankings.

After a chaotic preseason, Lions players say they have never been happier. During their final practice Thursday, they say the energy as they stepped out on the field was at an all-time high.

“It’s just giving me goosebumps," Senior fullback Seth Spiller said. "It’s an amazing feeling to be able to come out here and play my last year, my Senior year, at Franklin. I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.”

The 2020 season marks a new era in Franklin football. Long-time head coach Mike Hedrick announced he would retire at the end of the 2019 season, and his assistant, Mark Fannin, took over. Fannin first joined the Lion staff in 2007.

“I never would have thought that my first year as head coach we would be experiencing what we are experiencing right now with all these restrictions and guidelines," Fannin said. "It’s been tough not only for me, but for every coach around the state. Its something that is day by day right now. We are working through it, and I’m just glad we are able to play football right now.”

His players say Fannin has filled the new role well.

“He brings a lot of energy, and he’s making us closure as a unit and more of a family,” Senior tight end Ashton Ferguson said.

The Lions are projected to win a stacked District 13-3A II that includes Clifton and Rogers, who each are ranked in the Top 25.

Franklin will prepare for that difficult district schedule by taking on a grueling non-district schedule which includes Lorena (No. 13 in 3A-I), Cameron Yoe (No. 11 in 3A-I) and Troy (No. 9 in 3A-I).

Lorena Leopards (0-0):

The Lorena Leopards are hoping to rebound behind 29-year head coach Ray Biles after missing the playoffs in 2019. The Leopards dropped from Class 4A-II to 3A-1 during the UIL's 2020 reclassification.

The change is one of many for Lorena and their veteran coach. Biles began leading the Leopards in 1992. In the years since, he's helped make Lorena into a mid-level powerhouse, acquiring several district titles along the way.

But, 29 years of coaching experience couldn't prepare him for dealing with a global pandemic.

"Everything that they do up here, we're gonna do it the right way," Biles said. "So, it's been a bit different, but when that [team warmup] starts it's all the same, so that's the exciting part of it."

The Leopards return 10 starters from Lorena's 2019 squad.

Despite a strong core of defensive talent, Lorena is only projected to finish fourth in District 11-3A I. The top four teams in the district (Rockdale, Troy, Cameron Yoe and Lorena) are each picked to finish in the Top 15.

Biles says his team is embracing the role of underdog. After the pandemic shut down spring practice and some of the school's summer strength and conditioning, he says his kids are ready to go out and compete.

"I think our kids have adapted well," he said. "And when they cross that white line on the field it's all the same."

The field will look slightly different for starting quarterback Ben Smedshammer. Smedshammer transferred to Lorena from Midway and won out the starting job.

"A couple months ago, we didn't know what was gonna happen," Smedshammer said. "I know everybody else on this team is just as excited as I am to finally go against somebody that isn't us."

Biles said the strength of his team will be its defense. Lorena brings back a talented group of linebackers and safeties.

"Anywhere you go, we're from Lorena," senior linebacker Aidan Ray said. "So you've gotta represent your town and family. Representing our town and playing with our guys, that's what I'm excited for."

Even Biles could not hold back his excitement as he looked forward to his 29th "first game."

"There's nothing like it in the whole world, just that anticipation of what's about to go down," he said.

The Leopards also play a difficult non-district schedule, taking on Franklin (No. 8 in 3A-II) and China Spring (No. 18 in 4A-II) before enduring the grueling District 11-3A I schedule.