During the spring track season, the senior trio made up three-quarters of the team that won the Class 3A state championship in the 800-meter relay for the Warriors.
Good luck trying to catch them or run away from them on the soccer field.
“We use our speed a lot,” Clark said. “I feel like that’s one of the things that can set us apart from other teams.
“The track championship was a great experience. It really grew a bond within all of us that helps us connect on the soccer field and makes us better teammates with each other and better leaders.”
Crete-Monee (9-4), ranked No. 8 in the Daily Southtown preseason rankings, reached the Class 6A state semifinals last season.
The Warriors bring back a good chunk of the core of that team, including the Franklin and Billups-Williams duo that was virtually unstoppable in the passing game.
Franklin, a recruit out of western Michigan, threw for 2,165 yards and 23 touchdowns in his first season as a quarterback after moving from receiver. He added 869 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Billups-Williams, who will be Franklin’s future rival in the Mid-American Conference in Miami of Ohio, caught 82 passes for 1,433 yards and 14 TDs.
“We’re very confident in this,” Billups-Williams said. “Last year being Josh’s first year at quarterback and we were able to do what we did, that makes me more excited knowing that this is our last year and we still have great things to come.”
Billups-Williams and Franklin had not raced on track prior to the shortened 2021 season, so the spring provided their first opportunity to compete in the state. They teamed up with a track veteran at Clark.
With all the teamwork required to make a relay run smoothly, practicing for months in baton exchanges, the trio grew even closer.
“Pushing each other on the track, in those conditions, that helps us come back this summer and already be locked in before the football season starts,” Franklin said. “We are already on the same page.
“Those guys are my brothers. We’ve been playing together our whole lives, so right now we’re just having fun and making the most of our high school careers.”
Franklin and Billups-Williams, in particular, have been close all their lives.
“Lynel and I have been best friends since we were 2 years old,” Franklin said. “We started playing baseball, basketball, soccer all together, so when we went out on the field, we already had that connection.
“We do everything together off the pitch. Our moms, we basically have the same mom. We are always at each other’s house.”
Crete-Monee coach John Konecki he sees that bond developing on the field.
“The part that’s nice about guys who have spent a lot of time together is that there are a lot of things left unsaid, a look or a gesture, and they’re on the same page,” Konecki said. “When that happens, you’re in a great place.”
After tasting the experience of dipping deep into the playoffs last season, the Warriors hope to run all the way this year.
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“I know we have a lot to accomplish,” Franklin said. “Me being a four-time varsity starter, now it’s like I have to run the show. Everyone can count on me and I know what I can do.
“Last year was my first year as a quarterback, so I was figuring things out, but now I’m focused and ready.”
2021 record: 9-4.
offensive leaders: Lynel Billups-Williams, senior, catcher; Joshua Franklin, senior, quarterback; Tyrell Hester, senior, catcher; Vincent Vargas, junior, lineman.
defensive leaders: Edward Clark, senior, defensive back; Logen Malmgren, senior, lineman; Jamier Miller, senior, defensive back; Kendall Taggart, senior, defensive end.
X Factor: Elijah Grayer, senior, running back/special teams.