Livonia — Jacob Kelbert has enjoyed his journey with his teammates at Livonia Franklin the past few years and said his relationship with his head coach and father Chris Kelbert has grown along the way, bringing him special memories.
Jacob and his father were at Benny’s Pizza Pub Sunday night, along with the rest of the team watching the “MHSAA State Playoff Pairings Show,” finding out Franklin — 7-2 and ranked No. 16 in The News' Super 20 poll — will host Wyandotte in a Division 2 predistrict game with the winner advancing to play the winner of the game pitting Temperance Bedford at No. 12 Detroit King.
“It’s a good time for our football family for sure,” said Kelbert, who is in his 18th year as head coach and added the team has gone to Benny’s since 2015 when its impressive state playoff run started with a run to the Division 2 semifinals.
“We’re playing Wyandotte, so we’re familiar since we played them last year. Then we could play King and you have to play them at some time, so why not then (district final)?"
Franklin defeated Wyandotte, 38-14, in a predistrict game last year before a 27-25 district championship game win over Bedford. Its run came to an end in the regional final, with a loss to Birmingham Groves.
And, on his three-year run with his son, Jacob?
“He has really made our team click from an offensive standpoint for a lot of years,” Chris said. “I get a different perspective than most people do. I get to be there on the sidelines, I get to see the good, experience the bad, so I wouldn’t trade it for anything. We got to experience playing at Ford Field, so we’ve had more memories than most, gotten to share something that most people don’t.”
Where has Jacob matured the most in the past couple of years?
“Just in his decision-making and confidence, those would probably be the two biggest areas,” Chris said. “When he was a sophomore he was green and could rely on his other teammates. He didn’t have to be the guy that carried the offense. The last two years he’s been that guy.”
Jacob has enjoyed tremendous success as a three-year starting quarterback, helping Franklin reach the Division 2 championship game at Ford Field as a sophomore in 2017 when it fell to Warren De La Salle.
Jacob and his teammates had a chance to practice at Michigan’s indoor facility on the week of Thanksgiving prior to the state title game.
Last year Kelbert threw for 1,945 yards and 26 touchdowns with just four interceptions, while rushing for 860 yards and eight TDs to help Franklin reach the regional title game, where it lost to Groves.
Franklin already has scored more points this season (385) than in 12 games last year (374). Franklin has averaged just under 43 points with Kelbert throwing for 1,522 yards and 14 touchdowns and rushing for 584 yards and 14 more scores.
James Carpenter (680 yards rushing, nine TDs) and Connor Hatfield (30 receptions, 481 yards, three TDs) have also played well, along with an offensive line led by three-year starter Jake Swirple, 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior Kyle Fugedi, who has offers from Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan, and Aaron Mass.
Jacob said he loves this time of year but knows time is running out on his high school career, a reason he plans to enjoy every minute with his teammates.
“It’s a pretty unbelievable feeling to make it to the playoffs and this is one of the nights I look forward to most during the football season. It’s the third one and I’m sad it’s going to end soon,” Jacob said. “Football has given me experiences that I could never imagine, growing up as a kid they were just dreams and they’ve turned into reality.
“Being coached by my Dad, that’s just another experience that I’m going to miss a lot. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s definitely made me a better football player and a better person. Our relationship, our bond has grown stronger both on and off the field. Off the field we’ve became more humorous with each other and talked more football, which has brought us closer together. And on the field we just share a bond that most other players and most father-son relationships don’t.”
And of his teammates, Jacob said: “This team is very special. Growing up in Little League this was always a group that we succeeded and loved playing with each other. We have a lot of confidence and feel this team can go far, and we’re going to keep pushing until this train ends.”
Franklin’s lone losses this season have come against Division 1 powers — 33-21 to No. 6 Dearborn Fordson and 39-29 to No. 2 Belleville.
“We lost a couple of really heartbreaking games and learning from those mistakes have definitely created me into a better quarterback,” Jacob said.
“These past couple of weeks I’ve gotten a lot more experience and confidence in certain areas that I was unsure before. I’m ready to go.”