Franklin’s football team is known for its strong backfield, which is pushing the Lions to the state title game in 2020 and a state championship last season.
This year, the Lions (12-0) finally put together senior Bryson Washington and sophomore Jayden Jackson in hopes of making a second run at the state crown. Jackson passed for 1,668 yards and 25 touchdowns. Washington is right behind with 1,577 yards and 24 touchdowns.
“They kind of feed off each other, and if a team wants to key in on one of them, we’re pretty lucky that the other one can do just as well,” Franklin coach Mark Fannin said. “They’re just big, physical players who love to have the ball in their hands, and they work well together in the backfield.”
Washington was Franklin’s support for four years. He was the region’s defensive newcomer of the year in 2019 and earned region MVP honors as a sophomore and junior. Washington doubles as a safety for the Lions and is now starting to play in college at Baylor.
“His football sense is really apparent,” Fannin said. “He understands the game. He understands the offense. He understands the defense. That’s how he came into his senior year, and he has experience from freshman through his junior year, all of which are nothing but helpful.
Playing the role of big brother is something Washington said he has struggled with this season.
“We don’t have as much depth as we did last year, so I know I have to do more,” Washington said. “So I have my body and my mind in the week before the game, so I can be prepared when it’s time for it, when I’m tired and I don’t want to go back on the field. But I have to grind.
Alciatus was forging a similar path. Last season, he served as Washington’s older brother Bobby, and ran for 905 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He had a number of Franklin players look up to him, including his brother Malcolm Murphy, who was the center of the Lions’ state title team last season. Jackson recalled how those older players pushed him when he was in middle school.
“Watching these guys as I grew up motivated me to work hard because I knew coming into this year I had to keep my mind right and my body in shape to play on the field because I know my team. I need to get through the game,” Jackson said.
Fannin says he sees progress being made by Murphy in Washington and Jackson.
“[Bryson’s] He’s got a lot of eyes on him, the way he does everything, and Jayden kind of instilled in him, like he did with his brother last year, and he just kind of followed in his footsteps,” Fannin said. “And Jayden will be much better since we won’t have Bryson next year, and the younger guys will be leading.”
Next up in the Lions’ quest for a second straight state title is Hitchcock (11-1) in the Class 3A Division I regional. Winner of Cameron Yoe vs. Columbus in the state quarterfinals.
The Bulldogs won a competitive 122-3A-1 district, and their only loss was a 42-21 loss to Hallettsville, which swept Franklin in the bi-region. Franklin is looking for a third state quarterback appearance, while Hitchcock hopes to reach eight for the first time since 2015.
Hitchcock has seen the best of Fannin’s athletes overall in a long time, he said, and noted that Bulldogs sophomore quarterback Lloyd Jones III plays like former University of Texas and NFL quarterback Vince Young.
“We’re going to play sound football on defense,” Fannin said. “We’re going to get to the ball as fast as we can because guys can score at any time in the game because of their athleticism.”
Although Franklin has a blueprint the Lions can see to replicate winning a state championship, Washington said they want to do it again like they’ve never won before.
“Now it feels like we need to grind it out,” Washington said. “We played some good football. It’s not easy to go, oh, we’re going to win this game. We need to prepare our minds for the game and actually accept it.”