New Mt. Blue football coach Scott Franzose leads the Cougars through a workout on the first day of practice Monday in Farmington. Adam Robinson/Sun Journal

FARMINGTON — Mt. Blue football took a step in the right direction last season, reaching the Class B North quarterfinals before losing to Lawrence.

Getting a taste of the playoffs has boosted the confidence of the Cougars’ returning upperclassmen as they head into 2019 under new head coach Scott Franzose. 

When asked what the expectations were for this season, running back Kevon Johnson immediately replied, “Championship,” with a conviction backed up by others on the team. 

“We aren’t aiming for anything less than a championship,” Johnson said. “We always like our chances, and this year we like our players, like our coaches, and I think we’ll pull it together.”

For Franzose, who left Madison Area Memorial High School to join the Cougars in April, is excited about the numbers he returns from last year’s playoff squad. 

Franzose estimates about 12 seniors and 14-16 juniors will be on the team this season, many of which are on the offensive and defensive lines, allowing the first-year coach to bring out a lot of different formations. 

After using primarily power running formations in 2018, Franzose said the Cougars will almost strictly play out of the shotgun — 12 different formations, to be exact — this season.

“We are a spread offense, we like to run ‘gun, ‘gun all the time,” Franzose said. “We call it multi-gun because we run multiple formations, we have 12 formations. We are looking to have a two-back system, something we have been very efficient with and I’ve had great success with in the past.

“We have potentially a very seasoned offensive line up front. We have the pieces in place and we are going to run the ball, but we like our screen game, passing game.”

Who will run the offense a couple steps behind center is up in the air, with an open competition between senior Hunter Meeks and junior Jack Kearing battling for the starting quarterback spot. 

“Jack is a little bit of a gun-slinger, has that mentality and has a really live arm,” Franzose said. “Hunter is taking the system very well. The thing I tell them I like in a quarterback is I want them to be athlete because I like our quarterback runs, as well. We are looking for someone to be a dual-threat. I feel blessed that I have two guys that can run the system.”

Meeks started Mt. Blue’s playoff game last season, but like many positions for the Cougars in late summer, the job there is for the taking. 

“When you come in, and it’s open competition, but you see juniors and seniors and they’re big and strong guys, that is always encouraging,” Franzose said. “We are really not going to get things done if we aren’t filling gaps on defense and not getting running lanes on offense. I am really encouraged by that.”

Whoever ends up starting Week 1 will have some safety nets around him. Johnson will presumably get a decent amount of touches out of a two-man backfield. The veteran offensive line will also help, as will a strong defensive line. 

“Kevon Johnson is heralded as a balanced back who is a threat as a runner and a receiver,” Franzose said. “On defense he’s going to be a linebacker who we look to be a good force defender.”

Mt. Blue plans to run its defense out of the 4-2-5 formation while mixing in some 4-4, as well.

“Eddie Hebert, he’s known as an offensive guy but he can plug gaps defensively,” Franzose said. “I think we have athletes who can fit the system. … I think that these guys, getting to know them, fit our philosophy very well. I think we can pin our ears back and be a very solid defensive team, as well.”

With so many upperclassmen and versatile players, the expectations are high. Both the players and coaches have set them that way. 

“One of the big mantras we have is when new coaches come in it feels like you have to fix things and rebuild,” Franzose said. “It’s not, though. We have everything we need to win right now. I think we are going to get there. They are good kids, they want to win, I am very excited about this group.”

“We play hard on any given day and we won’t give anything less,” Jack Kearing said.

Mt. Blue starts the season against Cony at home on Sept. 6. The Cougars’ schedule is Class B-heavy, but also includes a game against Class A Edward Little in Week 7.

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