Only two starters return on defense for Sussex Hamilton. Franklin lacks experience across the board, save for the offensive line. When the two programs meet Thursday in an early-bird opener to the 2014 football season, football fans will learn a lot about the direction of both programs.
Meeting at Stan Grove Field in Sussex, Hamilton's game will be broadcast locally on Channel 24 as part of the "Thursday Night Lights" series.
"They have four All-State kids returning and look to be one of the better teams in the state in 2014," Hamilton coach John Damato said. "We are inexperienced on the defensive side of the ball and need to mature quickly if the Chargers want in on the playoffs."
Hamilton hasn't failed to make the postseason since 2006, which happens to be the year Franklin won a state championship in Division 2. The Sabers went back to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison as a Division 1 program last year but fell to mighty Arrowhead, and many top players graduate from that squad. Notable among them is All-State quarterback Sean McGuire, who will play at Western Illinois alongside the difference maker for Hamilton the last few seasons, running back Drew Patterson.
The Sabers bid adieu to a number of playmakers on that team, including running back Chad Walton, receiver Nick Plath, linebackers Erik Wimmer and August Beck and defensive back Jared Karow. Where they continue to have elite talent is with offensive linemen Vince Hughes, Bryan Beck and Dan Bartels, all of whom figure to play at the next level.
Wissports.net ranked Hughes No. 3 and Beck No. 10 among top overall seniors in Wisconsin.
Josh Frank becomes the new name under center, and if past history is any indication, the Franklin coaching staff will create another star quarterback and equip him with perimeter weapons.
This is a big year for Franklin, one year removed from the state-title run and opening the season with dramatically remodeled outdoor facilities, including artificial field turf on the football field.
Hamilton, meanwhile, must find its place in the talent-rich but fairly balanced Greater Metro, a league where Brookfield Central, Brookfield East, Menomonee Falls and Marquette have joined with Hamilton to form a clear-cut top tier over the past several seasons, while West Allis Hale, West Allis Central and Wauwatosa East have struggled to reach the playoffs. Hale should be much improved this year, and Hamilton will need to defeat at least one of the other top four to secure a playoff berth.
With Mike Fryda and Ball State recruit Andrew Poenitsch returning, the Chargers also have their fair share of talent on the offensive line. Running back Isaiah Webb will assume the role played by Patterson as primary ball carrier, and quarterback Michael Barnes returns on the heels of a superb baseball season.
The biggest two-week stretch on the schedule comes Sept. 19 against rival Falls and Sept. 26 against Marquette, the defending league champion. The Chargers will be primed and ready for GMC competition after meeting Franklin and perennial North Shore Conference stronghold Cedarburg eight days later.
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