|Franklin's Matt Walker has
been sidelined but not silenced.
Franklin College Football TD Club photo
Football, like life, can take sudden turns that can take a team or person in directions never expected.
That happened the second game of the season for Franklin linebacker Matt Walker. Against Butler, Walker came flying into the Bulldog backfield on a blitz when an offensive lineman’s hand accidentally penetrated Walker’s helmet, jamming his right eye.
The impact has left him without sight in the eye and Walker recently went through surgery to repair the crushed eye socket.
“Life is too short and we all are learning that you can’t take anything from granted,” said Franklin coach Mike Leonard. “The thing about Matt is that no one has handled it as well as he has. His attitude has been tremendous.”
The Grizzlies lost the game against Butler, falling to 0-2 after dropping the opener to No. 1-ranked Mount Union. But Franklin has gone undefeated in Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference play as the Grizzlies try to win their fifth league title and six years. Leonard said Walker’s attitude has had a positive effect on the team.
“It was a tragic deal, but he has handled it so well,” Leonard said. “We’ve come up with the term ‘Mattitude.’ That means having a positive attitude during times of incredible adversity. That’s a lesson for all of us to learn. It’s easy to have a great attitude when things are going well, but how are you going to be when things hit the fan and nothing’s going right and you’re up against tragedy. The guys are learning from Matt’s experience.”
Walker was an honorary Grizzly captain during homecoming this past Saturday, a school-record 70-20 victory over Earlham. In that game Franklin scored 56 points by halftime and actually didn’t score in the fourth quarter.
“We’re not looking for records like that,” Leonard said of the 70 points. The previous best was in 2010 when the Grizzlies scored 69 points against Anderson. The game evened Franklin’s record at 2-2 going into its bye week.
“We had a banner made for Matt that will hang in our end zone for a long, long time as long as I’m here coaching.”
Leonard said his team will concentrate on themselves during this bye week, referring to it as “Griz Week.”
“We’re excited about hitting our stride in midseason,” Leonard said. “We can’t lose thought on those little things that are really important. I told the team I want Charlie who comes to game to be inspired by the way they play on the field.”
Offensively, Franklin seems to be finding its stride. Quarterback Jonny West, the HCAC’s offensive player of year last season, is completing 80.4 percent of his passes in conference games, going 41-for-51, throwing for six touchdowns against one interception. He has averaged 258.5 yards a game in the process. Wide receiver Kyle Linville tops the conference in yards per game at 87.8 yards and in touchdowns with six. The Grizzlies also top the HCAC in total offense, averaging 397.8 yards per game.
“When you play good people, it humbles you and it exposes weaknesses,” Leonard said of West and his team. “We’re getting him back to the way we know he can play. I’m very excited about our offensive coordinator Josiah Sears. He does a great job and I trust him and offense line coach Andy Hope. They are making us very tough to defend.”
Leonard said he believes his defense is coming along as well, despite the fact that it’s giving up an average 33.5 points per game. He was quick to point to its 10 takeaways in four games.
“A lot of those points have come at the end of games,” Leonard said. “We like playing a lot of people, but I’m pleased with the way we’re stopping the run and we’re doing a great job at taking the ball away.”
Even though there are some big games ahead, Leonard said his team will be fine with a little bit of Mattitude.
Despite Mount St. Joseph’s 1-2 start, running back James Clay is shining bright. In the Lions three games, he has rushed for more than 200 yards in each contest to lead the nation. Together, he’s averaging 227.7 yards a game (97-683) with eight touchdowns. The Louisville, Ky. native has rushed for a high 240 yards in the Lions’ opener against Wilmington.
Elmhurst (3-0) at No. 11 North Central (2-1)
This could be an interesting game. Elmhurst running back Scottie Williams is averaging nearly 200 yards per game and is the newly minted all-time rushing leader at the school. But he will be facing one of the best defenses in Division III, one that has been particularly tough against other College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin opponents. Something’s got to give.