Frankfort football head coach Nick Anderson is in a quandary.
The Wildcats return plenty of talent off last season’s 7-2 squad, but position changes at key spots and uncertainty in their depth has Anderson — entering Year 6 as the head coach at his alma mater — keeping his optimism at arm’s length for the time being.
“It kind of gives you a little sense of ease, but at the same time, we’ve had to move some of those guys around to fill other voids,” Anderson said. “So even though they’ve played some football for us, they’re still relatively new in that regard.”
What won’t change for the Wildcats begins in the trenches, with their big offensive and defensive fronts, led by 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior center and nose guard Zavier Brandt. He is the anchor of both lines and will be a major asset on offense this season, assisting first-year quarterback Caden Dalinghaus.
“Zavier is a guy who has started all four years at center, so he’s been around the block a few times,” Anderson said. “It’s really nice, because he helps make all of our line calls and helps get some of our young guys on the correct assignments. So although we lost a four-year starting quarterback, we had a returning center so who made that transition substantially easier for us.”
Also aiding in the transition are fellow senior linemen Peyton Gerstner and Grant Steffes along with senior tight end and defensive end Samuel Gros.
The Wildcats’ celebrated senior quarterback, Gavin Cornielison, is gone after graduating.
Siding over to take his place is Dalinghaus, formerly a receiver and running back.
“I did not necessarily want to move Caden over (to quarterback), but he’s one of our better leaders, and when I approached him about it, he was really up for the challenge and was excited about it,” Anderson said. “So ultimately, we felt that was the best transition for our team. He’s obviously new to the position, but he’s getting better every day and I’m looking for substantial growth from him throughout the year.”
Frankfort does return last year’s leading rusher in Ethan Armstrong, a 6-foot, 170-pound senior who rushed for 904 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior.
“Ethan is just a naturally gifted, athletic kid,” Anderson said. “He’s got good speed and good quickness. His ability to make people miss in the open field improved as the year went on last (season), and we’re going to ask him to run between the guards a little bit more than he’s used to. But he’s accepted that role and has done a good job for us.”
After those six seniors, things get thin for the Wildcats. Sophomores Brock Armstrong and Wyatt Keller and junior Xander Hull are all expected to contribute but Anderson still is waiting to see what other underclassmen might step up.
“Although we’ve got a lot of seniors, we don’t have much depth at this point in time,” Anderson said.
“So we’re continuing to work on building that. And those younger guys — or other guys that I just mentioned — are definitely going to have to grow for us to make a run.”
Frankfort has won at least seven games in the last three seasons under Anderson, a feat the Wildcats hadn’t accomplished once since 2008.
Despite the departures from last season and the roster changes this season, Anderson hopes that the foundation of success the program has developed continues to thrive and grow.
“Culture is one of those things that’s never static,” Anderson said. “It’s always moving. This year, over half of our team are guys who have never played for us, so the things that have made us successful in the past three or four years, we can’t forget about those. We’ve got to continue to harp on those things and make them focal points. In the past, it has been easier to do because we kind of grew and progressed with last year’s senior class. With so many new guys, it’s just an everyday, constant battle to make sure that we focus on the process and the little things. Those are the things that are really going to make us continue to be a good program.”
The Wildcats open the year Friday at home versus Washington County.