Beyond Wins Or Losses, It’s About Family

| September 23, 2021

It’s been a rough year for the Franklin Knights thus far. But if you ask coach Matt Turk about it, he doesn’t dwell on the negatives, he proudly points out the positives.

(Article and photos by: Richard Sayer of Eight & 322)

Before last Saturday his squad had only mustered 28 points in three games. And they were completely shutout last week. Turk hears the rumblings of disappointed fans of the program, but he also knows the game. What he is doing with this young team happens behind the scenes and that is where he is seeing growth and heart.

“It’s like taking down the old studs of house and replacing them with new,” he said about rebuilding a program. Yes, this young team has given up a lot of points and the offense has struggled to move the ball consistently, let alone getting over the goal line. Turk points out his starting front line of sophomores, 15-year-olds mostly, often face 17 – to 18-year-olds on the other side of the line.

​”That’s not an excuse,” Turk emphasizes as he preaches to his teams that “Standards are standards.” He is hoping to raise those standards each week.

So going into Saturday’s home game against a strong Warren team, Turk knew it could possibly be another long night for his kids. The Dragons have only one loss on the season against state-ranked Cathedral Prep

The task for this second-year head coach was to motivate his squad to keep going while focusing on the goal of improvement and getting stronger each week.

​He and his coaches literally went to the drawing board to develop plays that could minimize the team’s weaknesses while building further on their strengths. Turk admitted the drop back pass or slow developing plays just wouldn’t work against the bigger teams with more experience. Quickness and agility needed to become their weapon than than trying to overpower their opponents.

Turk pointed out several young player’s abilities and how he sees them just getting better each week. He has high hopes for them in the coming years.

Turk is also a motivational style coach. He lifts each player as he talks to them, pointing out positives while they learn about things they can do to improve. Saturday he planned to have the team enter the field with a small fireworks display as one more thing to pump up his players. He is also looking to show the young kids coming up the kind of things they might want to be a part of as they grow. “You concentrate on these fifth and sixth-graders, that’s how you build a program,” Turk emphasized.

Then, before taking the field on Saturday, he gathered the team together in the locker room. He got passionate, at times loudly motivating the team about tenacity, grit, and backing down from nobody.
He then asked them all to create a circle, to put a hand on or arm around the person next to them as a unit. He then told the team he puts his trust in each of them as he talked about family.

The Franklin Knight football family.

Growing pains are softened when surrounded by family.

​He knew the game ahead wasn’t going to be easy, but he also wasn’t interested in backing down from a challenge.

He and his staff see the work being done daily and optimism grows. “Those are the things that people on the outside just don’t see,” Turk said.

It’s baptism by fire,” Turk admits emphasizing again that he makes no excuses for the losses and he accepts the hard knocks along the way, as long as what he sees each week is improvement.

When Warren came out and got a 14-0 lead early, it was looking like another frustrating long night was ahead of them. But that’s not at all what happened. Like Buster Douglas did to a stunned Mike Tyson, they took their hits and then swung back. What, in the first few weeks, resulted in heads down and drooping arms was replaced by each player trying to boost the next player up.

Teachable moments between coaches and players, coaches and coaches, and more important players and players all acting as a team…as a family.

Coaches and players try to prepare each week to get the most they can out of each other, but game day is always another beast. When getting beat up, it is hard to stay focused and fight back, but Franklin didn’t go quietly into the dark night. Down 33-7, they scored before the half and damn near scored twice. They went into the half with momentum despite just falling short of a last-minute third score.

And, in the second half, they went toe to toe outscoring the Dragons by a point. They did not let down. Conditioning is perhaps kicking in, coaching is better, players see the improvements, whatever it is, they looked at Warren square in the face and didn’t blink. They ended up losing 47 to 29, but they scored more than twice as many points as they had all season and they proved that 15- year-olds can indeed compete with 18-year-olds.

They now can go into week five against Conneaut with some renewed enthusiasm now seeing the benefits of being a family in a collective battle to just simply get better. And Conneaut is a team they can beat. The 0-4 Eagles have only scored 26 points in four games including being blanked by Warren in week one.

​The Knights travel to Linesville Friday for the 7 p.m. contest.

More about family.

With each practice and each game, these young kids getter older and wiser. They build knowledge and muscle. In doing so they close the gap between being a kid and the near-adult seniors they often face on the opposite side of the ball. It is a lot like being the younger sibling of the family. At some point something clicks and you’re no longer the little kid, your the equal brother or sister.

That’s what Matt Turk is trying to show his kids as he faces the opposition each week knowing it could be tough to come out with a W. He admits it’s tough to lose and it’s harder to lose badly week after week. But he refuses to dwell on that. Last week when he showed up on game day to talk to a reporter his eyes seemed to capture the movement of every kid walking on to campus. He began to call individuals over to show off their arm strength or to ask about preparation. He then talked to each about weight training and preparation.

More teachable moments.

​He is like a proud father, all the coaches are, and what many forget about coaching is that it is teaching practice, not just looking far schemes to win. That is part of it, but the real focus is learning from each other about being better. The kids teach the coaches too and they challenge each other to do and be better.

Turk keeps an eye on the next generation coming up hoping they will understand his commitment to this team. The fireworks, the working with the military to wear special uniforms to show support for the troops, and other things are admittedly as much for the future as they are for the current team. He said he is hoping kids see these things and want to be a part of the family.

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