Thrice as nice?

A returning roster full of youth and uncertainty hasn’t diminshed Frankford’s hunger for football glory.

  • Eyes on the prize: The 2014 Frankford Pioneers listen to a speech by head coach Will Doggett during Monday’s opening day of practice.

  • A returning roster full of youth and uncertainty hasn’t diminshed Frankford’s hunger for football glory.

  • Ready for some football?: Monday marked the beginning of training camp for the fall sports season, and head coach Will Doggett and his Frankford Pioneers are already hard at work. Winners of the last two Public League crowns, a new-look Frankford team hopes the third time’s a charm. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

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.” ••

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