Ann Arbor — Livonia Franklin senior Jacob Mass looked up at his surroundings and smiled, knowing he had hit the big time while practicing in Michigan’s indoor practice facility at Al Glick Fieldhouse on Tuesday night.
“I’m a State fan but I have to be honest, this is awesome,” said Mass, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who plays offensive tackle and linebacker for Franklin, which will be playing No. 7 Warren De La Salle in Friday’s Division 2 state-championship game at Ford Field.
“I told them yesterday at the end of practice and they were pretty excited about (practicing) at Michigan’s indoor facility),” said Chris Kelbert, who is in his 17th season as Franklin’s head coach, guiding the program to a state semifinal appearance two years ago when it lost to Detroit King.
No doubt, it’s huge for Franklin to be making the trip to Ford Field, hoping to earn its first state championship since winning the Class A state title in the playoffs’ inaugural year, 1975.
“A dream come true,” said Mass, “the best feeling in the world, especially with it being my senior year.”
The odds were stacked against Franklin at the midpoint of the season, with a 2-2 record.
“The biggest week was Week 5, coming right out of that loss that left us 2-and-2,” Mass said. “We had our own destiny in our hands, so we came to practice and kept working day in and day out, and we took things week to week, not like we have to win 10 straight.”
Franklin followed its 24-10 Week 4 loss to Livonia Churchill with a 21-0 victory over Howell, starting a nine-game winning streak. Franklin now wants to win 10 straight — because that would result in a state-championship trophy.
Mass, who played tight end last year, is a part of an entirely new offensive line with all five members that played on the semifinal team graduating after last season.
“I actually talked a guy to coming back and playing football this year to play tight end so I could only play one way and be a great linebacker, but when Coach (Kelbert) asked me to play offensive tackle I immediately said yes, anything to help the team,” Mass said. “It’s been fun.
“Really, we were shape-shifting our offensive line up to Week 7 or 8 when we put up 35 points (in a 35-0 victory over Grand Blanc) and after that we’ve had that same offensive line ever since then, putting points up consistently and the offense has been awesome. We run a lot of like power read, jet read, those types of things.”
The offensive line is made up of tackles Riley Baty and Mass, guards in Jake Swirple and Marcus Martin, and center Jack Yardley. The offensive line has done a solid job of opening holes for running back Isaac Moore and protecting 15-year-old sophomore quarterback Jacob Kelbert, son of the head coach.
Moore, a physical 5-11, 205-pound senior, has rushed for 1,450 yards and 13 touchdowns, including more than 1,000 yards the last six games.
And Kelbert has continued to progress during the last half of the season, opening up the passing attack which prevents opponents from loading the box to stop Moore & Co.
“He turned 15 in the last week of August, a young kid and right now he’s just one of the guys,” Kelbert said of his son. “When we look back on this, it’s going to mean more to us. Sure, there’s been some moments when we’ve been able to do the father-son thing, but it’s all football right now and he’s been a big part of our success whether he is my son or just another player.
“Over the course of the year as an offense we’ve become a more effective passing offense and that’s been a big area of improvement for us. He’s being more comfortable with his reads, more comfortable with his receivers, knowing more of where they’re going to be.
“Flushing’s game plan was to shut Isaac down and they held him to 70 yards and Jacob threw for 127 and ran for 150, just being able to have that dynamic now has let us find our groove offensively, having a counter to what teams are trying to take away in terms of our big run game.”
Moore rushed for 225 yards in a 35-28 overtime pre-district win over defending state-finalist Walled Lake Western, then 198 in a 21-19 district title win over Livonia Churchill, avenging an earlier-season loss.
When Flushing held Moore to 70 yards, Kelbert had a strong performance in the 31-29 regional victory, breaking loose for a 50-yard gain to set up a game-winning field goal.
“When he was younger, he lived and died with this program,” Kelbert said of his son. “Most kids go out and play tag football during football games, but he was on the sidelines for every single play. When we lost he was emotional about the losses and emotional about the wins too. One of the other dynamics that we have on this team is that we have five sets of brothers and four coach’s kids on the team. We have this kind of family thing going on where these guys have been a part of Franklin football and we’ve always had that bond with those kids because they’ve been friends coming to every game so that’s been unique about us.”
And Jacob Kelbert is enjoying every moment of the journey.
“It’s definitely been a dream come true since I’ve been dreaming of this run my entire life and to have it come true my sophomore year, my first year starting is unbelievable,”he said. “I’ve noticed that I’ve become more patient in the pocket due to having more experience from prior games.
“And to have that experience and feel comfortable in the pocket is just a different feeling, really makes it easier to make better throws and better reads.”
Franklin will have to have its offensive-line play at its best against a De LaSalle defense that has given up just 20 points during the playoffs, including a pair of shutouts, a 14-7 regional win over Oak Park, followed by a 14-13 win over two-time defending state champion Detroit King.