Franklin - The talent was there for a long run in the WIAA state playoffs for the football team, but injuries slowed the Sabers to a 7-3 final record.
Despite the injuries, strength showed through as the Sabers earned three NOW All-Suburban selections. The all-senior group included kicker Joe Falzon, guard T.J. Bartels and defensive end Adam Conley.
They had smarts, physical ability and the willingness to adapt.
Take Bartels, who earned first-team All-State honors from both the Associated Press and WFCA. He started playing football when he was about 10 years old, starting out as a left guard before switching to tackle for some years. He came back to left guard around his sophomore year in high school.
"I was always pretty aware of all the positions," he said, "and I had a pretty good knowledge of the game. Playing in the system we do (the spread/option) all of us (on the line) have to. You have to run block of course, but you have to be able to pass block and also be good in the open field."
Bartels assumed a leadership role on the line this season after fellow all-stater Levon Myers took his talents to Northern Illinois.
"I have the best feet (on the line) now that Levon's gone," laughed Bartels.
He used that skill to develop a real strength: blocking in the open field. He had to do a fair amount of it this fall, given the agility of junior quarterback Sean McGuire.
"You give Sean just a little time, you know he'll deliver," Bartels said. "Even if we break down, he'll keep going and so we all have to block until the whistle."
A number of schools are interested in Bartels, including Minnesota, Southeast Missouri State and North Dakota. He would like to major in business.
Conley always played to the whistle, said coach Louis Brown. Conley was slowed last season by his recovery of a knee injury that happened in the spring of his sophomore year. He more than made up for it by having a monster senior season. He was the second-leading vote-getter for Southeast Conference defensive player of the year and spent most of the time fending off double-teams.
"I was 100 percent for most of the year," Conley said, "so I was able to use a combination of both speed and power depending on who we were playing."
Conley, who has been playing ball since fifth grade, has always been a defender and has always been one of the taller people in his class.
"I was pretty lanky when I got into high school," he said, "but then I started hitting the weight room and then I started getting a bit stronger."
The opposition started taking notice, running away from him at every opportunity. Still, he was able to range and make a number of plays on the season primarily as a pass rusher. Option teams found him particularly difficult to deal with because of his range.
Unfortunately, Conley tweaked the knee in the second-round state playoff game against Lake Geneva Badger and the Badgers were able to take advantage of his absence in the season-ending loss.
Coach Louis Brown said Conley's absence was a major reason behind the defeat.
Conley is getting a fair amount of interest from some significant NCAA D2 and higher schools, including South Dakota State, Northern Iowa and North Dakota. Once he gets to school he would like to major in biology.
Falzon's talent also manifested itself early. He was an attacking forward in youth soccer from kindergarten to eighth grade and then started kicking in the Franklin youth football program when he was in eighth grade. He also turned himself into a fine blocking and pass-catching tight end at that point.
Franklin coaches noticed, and Falzon became that rarest of things in football: a four-year varsity performer, taking over the kicking duties in his freshman year and not relinquishing them.
"Making the transition (from soccer to kicking) was pretty easy," Falzon said. "I always watched kicker on TV, so I knew what to expect and it came pretty naturally to me."
Year-in and year-out his leg strength grew and so did his consistency, until he was regularly hitting kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
"I do take pride in it," he said. "A lot of it just has to do with repetition. You build good form and then just practice and concentrate."
Falzon's light spirit helped him keep the team loose this fall and he noted it helped him kick under pressure situations too.
Several smaller schools have contacted him to play as a tight end or wide receiver, but the Big 10's University of Minnesota has made its intent clear that they would really like him as a kicker.
"A chance to play Big 10 football is something else," he said. "It's going to be a hard decision. …because anything to help the team, whether it be catching balls or kicking, I've always had a passion for helping the team."
When he gets to college, he would like to major in accounting with the idea of becoming a CPA.
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