MILTON, Ga. — The goal set for St. Francis’ 2019 season is direct — improve on last year.
“We have had the task of trying to build a program that is solid year in and year out, and I feel good about the direction it is going,” St. Francis head coach Frank Barden said. “I was tremendously pleased with last season, we laid the foundation, and now it is time to start adding to that. Our goal is to be better than we were last year overall and continue to move in a positive direction.”
Barden, now in his second season with the Knights, said the excitement has grown around the program, evidenced by the team sporting nearly double its number of players in 2018.
While there will be new faces aplenty on the Knights’ sideline, familiar names should lead the charge, with the team returning much of its talent from last season.
Quarterback Josh Gil will lead the offense after throwing for over 1,300 yards with 20 total touchdowns. Hunter Jones will also return to the backfield after leading the Knights in rushing yards last season.
Senior receivers Isiah Wadsworth and Jai Smith will continue to be Gil’s go-to receivers. The duo combined for 1,000 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
Senior lineman Darron Willis, Peyton Newcomb and Ayden Prigoff return for their senior campaigns and will see action on both sides of the ball in the trenches.
“I’ve done this for a long time, and our front four on defense is as good as anybody,” Barden said. “All are 230-plus pounds, they are athletic and I think they are the strength of the defense.”
Jones and Gianni Dorsey will lead the linebacker core, and Wadsworth returns to the secondary after compiling 63 tackles, four interceptions, three caused fumbles and two fumble recoveries last year.
“This is a fun group to coach,” Barden said. “They’re the kind of kids you want to go to battle with, and it’s a special group of seniors because they are so close. It’s fun to go out there every day and see if we can be a good football team.”
The Knights’ push to improve will include the goal of reaching the postseason for the first time in five years. St. Francis fell heartbreakingly short of the playoffs last season, finishing just one-tenth of a point outside the final playoff spot in the final Class A-Private power ratings.
While every game impacts the Knights’ power ratings, region play will be crucial for the squad’s playoff hopes with eight games coming against Region 6-A foes.
“No question it’s going to be a fight,” Barden said. “We are just trying to catch up. Every team is very good and well-coached. Hopefully our improvement over last season will give us a shot to play in the playoffs, but right now we are focused on ourselves.”