Franklin Regional was bitten by the injury bug in 2017, which forced coach Greg Botta to use a lot of underclassmen in key games.
Franklin Regional finished 6-4 (5-3 in the Big East Conference) and qualified for the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. The Panthers fell to Upper St. Clair, 6-3, in the opening round.
And while the season didn’t finish the way Botta planned, playing the young athletes should benefit the 2018 squad.
The offensive line, which will feature a senior and four juniors, should be solid, and senior quarterback Adam Rudzinski should benefit from a year of experience.
“I’m excited,” Rudzinski said. “I’m going to be throwing to some fantastic athletes who know how to get open.”
Rudzinski completed 75 of 163 passes for 1,090 yards and 10 touchdowns. He also rushed for 224 yards.
Michael Evans and Devin Powell are two receivers looking to increase their production in 2018. Evans battled injuries and had seven catches for 144 yards, and Powell had five catches for 104 yards.
Other targets for Rudzinski include sophomores Brandon Zanotto, Colton Johns and Jeffrey Downs and juniors Nick Leopold and Justin Johns.
Botta is looking to replace pass-catching tight ends Jacob Shedd and Hunter Stonecheck, who graduated.
“This is what’s good about seven-on-seven tournaments,” Botta said. “I told my offensive coordinator that we have to get the ball to these guys an X amount of times in a game. I expect a lot of things from these guys.
“We just have to get the offensive line rolling, and we should be competitive.”
Zack Gordon and Zanotto will be two of the running backs replacing Nate Leopold and Stephen Johns.
Junior Anthony Bonnaci will start at center, and junior Jake Painter (290 pounds) will start at right tackle. The other starters are expected to be Zach Crossland at left tackle, and guards Josh Gabster and Alex Hutsko.
And while the defense took a big hit with graduation, Botta still sees some promise.
Justin Johns is moving to middle linebacker to replace tackle machine Bryce Lauer. Jack Poling also returns at linebacker. While Rudzinski wants to play defense, Botta said he is more valuable at quarterback.
Leopold and Evans will be counted on at cornerback, Botta said, and Colton Johns also will be in the defensive backfield.
“I feel we have players who can fill in,” Botta said. “The key is staying healthy.”
Coach: Greg Botta
2017 record: 6-4, 5-3
All-time record: 280-246-12
Date, Opponent, Time
8.31, Plum*, 7 p.m.
9.7, at Latrobe*, 7 p.m.
9.14, West Mifflin, 7 p.m.
9.21, Shaler, 7 p.m.
9.28, at Albert Gallatin*, 7 p.m.
10.5, Gateway*, 7 p.m.
10.12, Connellsville*, 7 p.m.
10.19, at McKeesport*, 7 p.m.
10.26, at Penn-Trafford*, 7:30 p.m.
*Class 5A Foothills Conference game
Passing: Adam Rudzinski
75-163, 1,090 yards, 10 TDs
Rushing: Stephen Johns*
108-439 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving: Nate Leopold*
28-375 yards, 6 TDs