By HOWARD SENZELL
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Jason Franci farewell tour begins Friday, but the Montgomery coach has more on his mind than accepting plaudits and gifts.
“I couldn’t walk away leaving the problems we’ve had here the past two years for the new coach,” he said. “Before I leave, I need to clean things up and restore the Montgomery football tradition.”
After winning nine North Bay League and three North Coast Section titles during his 32-year tenure, Franci’s past two teams have gone 4-6 and 3-8.
He feels like he let the school and Viking faithful down.
“In 2010, we had some bad apples on the squad,” Franci said. “They weren’t working hard and instead of kicking them off the team, I thought I could straighten them out. I was wrong. They became like cancers. It started out with a core of players with bad attitudes and things snowballed.
“Last year, we still had a couple of guys that weren’t serious about playing Montgomery football. Again, I should’ve been more decisive and made changes. I’m still mad at myself for not kicking certain players off that team.”
On paper, this doesn’t look like one of Franci’s better teams. After losing 22 players to graduation, there are only seven seniors on the squad. That means a lot of inexperienced players will get a lot of playing time.
“For me, this season is not strictly about wins and losses,” said Franci, 69. “It’s about leaving the Montgomery football program in a good position for my successor.”
While the Vikings are thin on experience, they do have one of the Redwood Empire’s most explosive receivers in Etienne Ezeff.
Unofficial stats from last year show Ezeff pulled in nine passes, three of those for touchdowns. He averaged nearly 18 yards per catch.
If his last name sounds familiar, he’s the brother of former Montgomery and Cal safety Marcus Ezeff.
The two worked together this summer. Franci has been impressed.
“He was a good player last year,” the coach said, “but he worked hard over the summer and has raised his game. He’s added weight and has really impressed the coaching staff.”
Incidentally, the elder Ezeff has joined the Montgomery coaching staff, working with the defense.
Senior Chris Hester will be the starting quarterback Friday at Pinole Valley. Elijah Higgs is also expected to get some snaps. The offense will be pass-oriented, according to Franci.
True to his word about getting rid of “bad apples,” the coach dismissed several returning players a few days ago.
“They weren’t dedicated to the team,” the coach said. “I’m not going through that again.”
Even though he’s got a plethora of young players, Franci is enjoying his final training camp.
“This group of kids is a lot of fun to be around,” he said. “They give 100 percent all the time.
“I never dreamed I’d be coaching at Montgomery for 33 years. The reason I kept going is because I enjoy being around the players.
“That’s what I’m going to miss most.”
Coach: Jason Franci (33rd season)
2011 record: 3-8, 3-3 in NBL (4th)
2011 JV record: 7-3
OFFENSE: WR Etienne Ezeff, TE Colton Silvers, RB Logan Francavilla
DEFENSE: DE Dakota Row L Tommy Dethvongsa, LB Matt Martin, L Ian Williams-Marlow
PLAYERS TO WATCH
WR Etienne Ezeff has improved over his sophomore season when he averaged nearly 18 yards per catch.
QB Chris Hester, a senior, moves into the starting role. Had good success last year when filling in for Danny McRae.
TE Dakota Row, at 6-foot-7, might be the tallest player in the NBL. An elusive target at tight end and also plays defensive end.
NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
C Nate Lopez has impressed coaches with his strength and blocking ability.
LB Justin Perry’s quickness moving to the ball is his forte.
8-24 at Pinole Valley, 7:30 p.m.
8-31 vs. Bethel, 7:30 p.m.
9-7 vs. Clayton Valley, 7 p.m.
9-21 vs. Casa Grande, 7:30 p.m.
9-28 vs. Cardinal Newman, 7:30 p.m.
10-5 at Rancho Cotate, 7:30 p.m.
10-12 at Ukiah, 7:30 p.m.
10-19 at Santa Rosa, 7:30 p.m.
10-26 vs. Maria Carrillo, 7:30 p.m.
11-2 vs. Windsor, 7:30 p.m.