The enthusiasm rarely wanes for Bill Franks when he reflects on growing up and living most of his life in Newark.
An all-state wide receiver who was a part of three state championship teams in the early 1980s at Newark Catholic, Franks served as an assistant with Newark from 1992-96 and then was the Wildcats' head coach from 1997-2001.
When the head coaching position came open at his alma mater, he got the job and led the Green Wave to 11 playoff appearances, including the 2007 Division VI state title, in 16 seasons.
After a stop last fall at New Lexington, where he guided the Panthers to a 5-5 record coming off three consecutive 3-7 finishes, Franks is back at Newark to attempt to revive a program that has experienced many more downs than ups since he left.
The Wildcats went 8-2 in 2004 and then made the second playoff appearance in program history in 2005 when they finished 8-3, but since that time they have endured three winless seasons and six other years in which they won two games or fewer.
Last fall, Newark closed the regular season with a 12-9 win over Franklin Heights but finished 2-8 overall and 1-4 in the OCC-Capital Division in its fifth and final season under Mike Kopachy.
The Wildcats could not build on a 5-5 record in 2016 and have yet to win as many games in any season as they did during their first year under Franks in 1997, when they went 9-1 and barely missed the Division I playoffs.
"Newark has always been a special community to grow up in," Franks said. "I'm proud to be back as head coach. We're big on growth mindset and that every day is a gift. Every time there's a challenge, we make a plan to overcome it. This world is supposed to be tough, and we embrace that."
For players like senior two-way lineman John Wieber, it's been all about "family."
The work ethic he's seen from a coaching staff that also includes a mixture of people Franks coached with at Newark Catholic and others who have a history with the Wildcats is something that Wieber says "pushes us to do the best we can do."
Chester Fields, also a two-way returning senior lineman, believes there is much to feel good about regarding the coming season as Newark faces the exact same slate of games but with a new system and outlook.
"(Franks) loves to coach and loves to be here with us," Fields said. "He's a real good influencer. Overall there are times it gets hard, but we're always there for each other and that's how we function."
In addition to returning an experienced offensive line, Newark has a veteran at quarterback in junior Jake Sherman. He became a part-time starter as a sophomore and finished 71-for-140 passing for 824 yards with five interceptions last season.
Junior Garret Ramsey, who will be Sherman's backup, threw for 348 yards and two scores.
Senior Prophet Johnson was an offensive lineman in past seasons but has been moved to fullback, where he joins senior Kwame Rogers.
Junior Mason Wheeler, who rushed for 173 yards and had eight receptions last fall, also should see action in the backfield.
Seniors Louie Cook and Delrue Daniels will lead the wide receiver corps, with senior Collin Street and junior Tre Dansby both expected to see action at tight end.
Joining Fields and Wieber as returning offensive linemen are seniors Devin Nixon and Josh Thomas and junior Gabriel Madden.
Newark averaged just 13 points and was held to seven points or fewer five times, all coming after it had scored 27 points in each of its first two games and defeated Marion Harding 21-0 in week 3.
Johnson returns on the line to lead the defense after finishing with 53.5 tackles and 13 tackles for loss.
He is joined up front by a unit that includes Dansby, who had 4.5 tackles for loss last season, as well as juniors Brandon Johnson and Brayden Williams.
Anchoring the secondary is Cook, who had 38.5 tackles and one interception at free safety, and Daniels, who had 27.5 tackles and three tackles for loss and will be at cornerback along with senior Jaden Woods. There are several others who will rotate into the backfield.
Rogers and Street are at inside linebacker, with seniors Kadin Robinson and Logan Swonger and junior Tyler Shaffer among those on the outside.
Junior Garrett Kashner returns at kicker after making 12 extra points and three field goals, including a 24-yard game-winner as time expired in the win over Franklin Heights.
He also attempted 67 punts, leaving 13 inside the 20, and will handle those duties as well. Madden returns as the long snapper.
Daniels, who returned five punts and two kickoffs last season, should be joined on the return team by Cook, Ramsey and Swonger.
Quarterbacks: *Jake Sherman (jr., 5-10, 167), Garret Ramsey (jr., 6-2, 165), Jaden Woods (sr., 6-3, 169)
Running backs: *Prophet Johnson (sr., 5-10, 222), *Mason Wheeler (jr., 5-10, 152), Kwame Rogers (sr., 6-2, 225), Logan Swonger (sr., 5-9, 148)
Receivers: *Louie Cook (sr., 6-0, 152), *Delrue Daniels (sr., 5-11, 176), Tre Dansby (jr., 6-4, 187)
Tight ends: *Collin Street (sr., 6-3, 205), Dansby
Linemen: *Chester Fields (sr., 6-2, 274), *Gabriel Madden (jr., 6-1, 266), *Devin Nixon (sr., 5-11, 281), *Josh Thomas (sr., 5-9, 231), *John Wieber (sr., 5-10, 266), Andrew LeFevre (jr., 6-3, 283)
Linemen: *Dansby, *Brandon Johnson (jr., 5-9, 227), *Prophet Johnson, *Brayden Williams (jr., 6-0, 228), Fields, Madden, Nixon, Thomas, Wieber
Linebackers: *Kadin Robinson (sr., 5-9, 158), *Rogers, *Swonger, Tyler Shaffer (jr., 6-0, 188), Payton Sherrard (jr., 5-11, 188), Street, Ian Wilson (jr., 5-9, 172)
Secondary: *Cook, *Daniels, *Woods, Devon Kelso (jr., 5-11, 157), Ethan Paul (sr., 5-10, 152), Nick Paul (sr., 5-7, 127), Ramsey, Quadre Rogers (jr., 5-10, 154), Sherman, Wheeler
Kickers: *Garrett Kashner (jr., 5-9, 173), Izaak Oliver (jr., 6-0, 138)
Punters: *Kashner, Oliver
Returners: *Cook, *Daniels, *Ramsey, Swonger
Long snapper: *Madden
(*Denotes projected starter)