Voorhees High lineman Merritt Francis has witnessed the good, bad and ugly that’s come with the Vikings’ past three seasons. He finally got to see the good last season, and thinks the campaign that starts with a Friday night game at Warren Hills will be better.
Francis, a three-year, two-way starting lineman, played on consecutive 2-8 clubs before Voorhees went from worst to first last season in the Mid-State 38 Mountain Division. They clinched the title with a thrilling victory over dangerous Rahway at Richard Diegnan Field. The season also featured the Glen Gardner school’s first playoff berth in 10 years.
“Last year gave us the confidence that we had a program that could win games, and that we had players who could compete with the best in the division,” said Francis. “We got a taste of what the playoffs are like, and it’s somewhere we’d like to go back to and advance further this season because we have a team capable of doing it.”
Francis, being recruited by several FCS schools including Delaware and Lehigh, played a pivotal role in the resurgence. Now he’s looking to raise his performance; he certainly has the pedigree.
Francis is the latest of accomplished football players in his family. His brother, Adam, was the Voorhees’ quarterback until 2009 and and played linebacker for Lehigh. He graduated last spring. Their father was a 1981 All-State defensive end for Cardinal Newman High School in Columbia, S.C.
And as irony would have it, Francis’ grandfathers on each side played for the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant before Bryant arrived in Alabama. Al Francis played for Bryant at Texas A&M and Eugene Kinney at Maryland.
With football flowing deeply through his veins, Voorhees’ team captain is sincerely committed to excellence.
“He’s a really smart football player,” said Voorhees coach Bobby Angstadt of Francis. “He’s dedicated to his offseason training and is a leader by example. It also doesn’t hurt that he comes from a football family because he knows the game.”
Francis returns this fall as a left offensive tackle, but on defense he’s sliding outside to defensive end from defensive tackle. The move is something that’s gotten Francis giddy.
“It’s about the playmaking ability you have on the edge,” he reasoned, “and if you’re not going to make a play you can allow someone else to make a play.”
One particular area that’s being stressed by Angstadt in 2013 is finishing. Voorhees failed to do so last season, dropping its final two games including a forgettable 35-0 blanking by Parsippany Hills in the NJSIAA North 2 Group III quarterfinals.
“We were satisfied with a playoff game and division championship last year, but our goal is improve and finish this season strong,” Francis said.