If Will Doggett is fretting over the fact that his returning Frankford Pioneers football team is largely young and inexperienced, then he’s doing a fantastic job of masking it.
Doggett, entering his fourth year as the school’s head coach, has appeared in the Public League title game in each of his three seasons, winning the last two. Last season’s 30-3 demolition of Washington was the capstone on a seven-game win streak, and the Pioneers nearly made it eight when they came close to shocking St. Joe’s Prep in the city title game (a crushing but admirable 10-7 loss).
Things will look a tad different as the 2014 season rapidly approaches, with many of the champions of those last two seasons having graduated and moved on to greener pastures. There are a few remaining remnants, but Monday’s season-opening practice saw Doggett and his coaching staff working with a plethora of fresh faces.
Not that Doggett is complaining about that.
“I’m psyched to be out here,” he said. “The fun part about having a bunch of young guys and not a ton of seniors is that you get to teach a lot more. You get to go back to basics. I see coaching a sport like teaching math in the classroom. You take what you know and you teach it, and the guys here are really good teachers. It’s what makes our group a really special one. My primary goal is to get everyone out here and see progress every day.”
As usual, Doggett was in high spirits when interacting with his new group. He playfully chided a player for wearing Superman socks (complete with mini-red capes hanging out of the backs of them, perhaps heisted from Robert Griffin III’s closet), and when another player came to collect his cell phone from Doggett’s pocket after the morning session was done, the head coach asked, “What, you got to let your girlfriend know what time you’re coming home or something?”
He was tuned into each drill and hung on every pass, punctuating with phrases like, “Oh! Nice catch!” when things looked pretty, or “Cheese and crackers! We couldn’t catch a cold in a hospital right now!” when they went the other way. It’s clear watching one practice how much Doggett’s players look up to and respect him, shouting, “Yes, coach!” in unison every time he shouts a question, even after he runs them ragged around Frankford Stadium for hours on a hot summer morning.
“Hopefully, they’re aspiring to the tradition that is Frankford,” he said of his new group of youthful players. “I hope the young guys coming in are thinking about how those other guys got two (championship) jackets in a row and wondering how they can get one of their own. You don’t just get those; you have to earn them. It’s about winning football games and championships, sure, but more than that it’s about becoming young men who move on to do things outside of here.”
More so than the two consecutive championships, Doggett gushed over the fact that he had 13 kids from last year’s team attending college and playing football at various levels. He and his staff preach the value of hard work in order to show the kids that nothing — be it in football, or just life in general — will be handed to them.
That’s a major reason why he uses the first few weeks of the non-league schedule matching Frankford up against suburban powerhouse programs. Last year, the Pioneers began 0-3, losing handily to Downingtown East, Pennsbury and Archbishop Wood; and while they don’t like losing at “The Home of Champions,” those early defeats showed where the Pioneers were deficient and in which areas they needed to improve their mettle in order to make another run at a league crown.
“Those games teach us a lot,” said Doggett, whose team will again open up with Downingtown East in 2014, this time on the road. “Last year, from the beginning of the season to the end, I think you saw two different teams show up. A lot of that came from adjustments we made after those first three games. We saw our struggles and worked through them. Those adjustments prepared us for the Pub, and to compete with a team like St. Joe’s. As long as these guys buy in as a team and don’t just go for individual stats … if we work as a team within the Frankford tradition, then I think we’ll be fine.”
Some key returning names include senior two-way players Devontae Lee, Byshawn “BJ” Jenkins and Danny Kornegay; all were listed as wideouts and defensive backs on the 2013 roster, but Doggett said they could play all over. He raved about Lee’s athleticism, and said that he could see time at quarterback in 2014. There are also talented players coming up from the JV level, and Doggett said students who have been talking about playing since sophomore year have finally begun to show up as seniors. One player who won’t be present is highly regarded Division-I recruit Shareef Miller, a two-way captain on last year’s team who transferred to archrival Washington after his family moved close to the school.
“A lot of these kids will have to go two ways, so we’re focused on getting them in shape to start,” Doggett said. “We want to have them ready to execute what we’ve been planning. We’ll get a little bit better every day at what we do, and if the core group continues to do what they have been doing in preparing over the summer in the weight room, then we will see that progress every day. Today looked like a football camp; we had guys spread out working on different things, which was good to see.”
It’s still early as far as Frankford’s specific personnel goes, just as it is to predict how the Public League will shape out in 2014. But make no mistake about it: Doggett and veteran coaches Dave Cebular (offensive coordinator) and Dominic Doyle (offensive and defensive lines) can’t wait to see what they have as summer camp progresses.
A lot can happen between now and Aug. 29 when the Pioneers visit Downingtown East (7 p.m.), but the excitement inside Frankford Stadium was as ubiquitous as the enormous dragonflies buzzing through the late-morning air.
“I enjoy coming out here,” Doggett said. “I relaxed this summer like I never have before, so I came in here ready to go. I’m excited to see the amount of kids we have out here today, and there’s still some yet to come who are still working summer jobs. Overall, it’s been good, and we’re all very excited to get going.” ••