State champion Franklin Co. works hard in the offseason

Published 5:00 am Monday, July 23, 2007

MEADVILLE — If the Franklin County Bulldogs are to repeat asClass 3A State Champions this fall, Coach Grady McCluskey and hisassistants know that the stronger they become in the summer willonly make them better throughout the season.

The Bulldogs work out Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday at thespacious FC weight room which is one of the best facilities in thestate. FC coaches give players an option to work out either in themorning at 8 or the evening at 6. Players must make at least 18workouts to be on the team.

“This is one of the better summers we’ve had since I’ve beenhere,” said McCluskey, who will be entering his third season ashead coach of the Bulldogs and sixth at Franklin County. “Theturnout has been great, we’re getting stronger.”

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One player in particular who has gotten stronger has been FCstar running back/cornerback Alex Smith, a 6-foot, 178-poundjunior. Smith rushed for 775 yards last season and added 5touchdowns. Smith had four interceptions last season, including twoin the State Championship game.

“Workouts have been going good,” said a soft-spoken Smith.”We’ve been hitting the weights hard all summer.”

Franklin County went a school-record 14-1 last year concludingwith a 23-13 victory over Nettleton in the Class 3A StateChampionship game. A summer-long weightlifting program hadaccounted for much of the Bulldogs success in season’s past.

McCluskey and his assistant coaches: David Tadlock, RickeyO’Quinn, Jeremy Loy, Tony Gibbs, and Brent Calcote, have beenmaking sure the Bulldogs lift weights correctly with a differentformat of exercises each day to make the players stronger.

From bench press to working on the ‘Dominator,’ a new machinebuilt to increase upper body strength and awareness.

“Our team as a whole has been working really hard,” said FCsophomore offensive lineman Gavin Weathers. “We are looking forwardto the season.”

When not lifting, the Bulldogs are running or working as a teamin 7-on-7 tournaments. The Bulldogs finished in the Elite 8 lastweek in the State 7-on-7 football tournament at Oxford High School.The Bulldogs won the Lawrence County 7-on-7 tournament lastmonth.

“We’ve done a good job with 7-on-7 this summer,” addedMcCluskey. “Our guys have to understand that last year was lastyear, and that this year is going to be this year. We are basicallystarting over.”

Ole Miss commitment Aljoshua Tillman, the Bulldogs’ returningsenior defensive end, has become stronger over the summer. Tillman,(6-5, 260) gathered 75 tackles and 10 sacks last season. He hasgained 10 pounds to his muscular frame since last season.

“This is my senior year, and I want another (championship)ring,” said Tillman. “As a senior you always want to go out ontop.”

The Bulldogs begin practice Aug.6, and open up the regularseason Aug. 31 at Hazlehurst in a rematch of last November’s Class3A South State Championship showdown.

“The schedule is the hardest we’ve had since I’ve been here,”said McCluskey. “Every team is good. It’s not going to be easy.Everyone is gunning for us now after last year.”

McCluskey had shirts made for the players and coaches, whichshow opponents as arrows pointing at them on bulls-eye. Most of theBulldogs know that the challenge of repeating is difficult, but onethey gladly welcome in trying to win another championship.

“There’s nothing better than being a champion,” continuedMcCluskey. “Some of our players have tasted it (state title) andwant it again. And some have tasted it and become satisfied.

“Satisfied only gets you beat!”