Introducing …

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 23, 2003

MEADVILLE &045; Some in football jerseys, some in sweat suits and some in jeans &045; a group of approximately eight boys strolled out of their seats in the Jefferson County gym last Friday during halftime of the girls’ basketball game.

No bulldog graced their attire; no letter jacket with an ‘F’ cloaked their body. There were no defining marks to decipher this was the division 7-3A leaders.

But minutes after the girls’ contest had finished, the same group of young men bolted out of the visiting locker room adorned with navy jerseys with numbers on their backs lined in gold.

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Colors that made them all Franklin County Bulldogs

&uot;There’s a lot of people out there who probably underestimated us going into the season,&uot; said Bulldog forward Josh Bradford, a part of a Franklin County (13-6, 6-2) team that has been at or near the top of 7-3A all year.

&uot;With all our success we’re just trying to squash all the naysayers.&uot;

With a 10-16 finish to last season, who can blame the rest of this tough Miss-Lou district for overlooking head coach Chris Jordan’s bunch.

But Franklin County, with two starters that had never played varsity before this season, has begun to assert itself as a team to reckon with.

Jordan’s only anxiety about the Bulldogs’ success is that it will dilute the remaining schedule, such as Tuesday’s 50-47 defeat at Crystal Springs.

The same Crystal Springs team that was winless in eight division games before the stunning upset of the Bulldogs.

&uot;We got outplayed for 32 minutes. It’s as simple as that,&uot; Jordan said. &uot;(Crystal Springs) was more intense, they stayed with their gameplan and listened to their coach.&uot;

Jordan is pulling hair out over how his team deals with its newfound achievements. He pinpointed an earlier season comfortable win over Crystal Springs as a reason for Tuesday’s loss.

Plus two starters showed up 45 minutes late for practice on Martin Luther King Day, this Monday.

&uot;If they (players) are willing to take the credit for when we win, they better be able to take the criticism,&uot; said Jordan, in his 12th year as the Bulldogs’ coach. &uot;Anytime you miss free throws and layups and throw the ball away, you lost the game on your own.&uot;

And it is crystal clear the Franklin County players are aware of that. There is something to be said for youth being responsible for losses.

However, guard DeAndre Cameron is just a sophomore, but understands what it takes to succeed and acts as a great compliment to point Bobby Henderson.

The Bulldogs have tossed aside the fact that Cameron is two years younger than most of them.

&uot;It’s really not about me being a sophomore, but more so all of us working as a team,&uot; Cameron said. &uot;We’ve been doing that since day one. I feel like a senior because I play up to my level, just like we all do.&uot;

The signs were definitely there that this team had potential. This same group of seniors won the eighth grade division championship and played again for the title the following year.

But Jordan also has been lucky to find diamonds in the rough like post player Zack Thomas, in his first year of high school basketball.

&uot;I’m especially hard on Zack because I question how serious he approaches the game sometimes,&uot; Jordan said. &uot;He forgets where to go on certain plays.&uot;

For all his shortcomings and inexperience, though, Jordan values Thomas’ production night in and night out.

The 6-6 Thomas has developed into one of the area’s premiere big men, outscoring Jefferson County’s 6-8 Juan Wyatt, 20-13, in the Bulldogs win last Friday.

The Bulldogs have five more division games before they host the 7-3A tournament Feb. 11-14.

Franklin County’s manhood and desire will be tested in this final stretch, including the tournament.

&uot;The bottom line is you have to prepare yourselves in practice and then execute in games,&uot; Jordan said. &uot;I’m not a big believer in all that peaking stuff.&uot;

Regardless, it begs the question: can Franklin County ride this train until it reaches its destination?

No longer will the Bulldogs be able to fly under the radar screen against teams.

With a showdown with Wilkinson County set for next Tuesday, the Bulldogs have to find a remedy for any leftover road woes.

&uot;This division is so strong,&uot; Jordan said. &uot;It’s awful tough to win on the road. If you can, though, you’ve got a pretty good bunch.&uot;