Friday Night Heroes: Salisbury’s Tre Jackson and Justin Franklin

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Bret Strelow
The “12th man” has positively impacted Salisbury even though it’s played road games in hostile environments the last two Fridays.
Tre Jackson, a junior currently occupying the “Hornet” position on defense, and Justin Franklin, a senior filling in as a safety, made important contributions during playoff victories at Shelby and Pisgah that have pushed Salisbury (10-4) into a 2AA semifinal matchup with Newton-Conover (13-1).
The Hornets began the season with 12 players whom head coach Joe Pinyan thought were worthy of starting defensively. Jackson and Franklin initially split time at the “Hornet” position coached by David Johnson.
“We had a hard time,” Pinyan said. “We felt like we had 12, and only 11 of them could play.”
An unfortunate injury has resolved the issue for the time being.
Starting cornerback Joseph Figueroa exited the lineup late in the first half of Salisbury’s 34-26 victory at Shelby. Dominique Phillips moved from safety to corner, and Franklin stepped in at Phillips’ old spot.
Franklin, who struggled a bit at safety in regular-season starts against North Rowan and Lexington, broke up four passes during a 35-7 rout of Pisgah in a third-round game Friday.
“At ‘Hornet’ you’re more antagonistic in the game, more forceful,” Franklin said. “You get more down and dirty.
“Safety, you seem more like the last line of defense. You watch the field and let the play come to you.”
Jackson, who spent some time at linebacker during the regular season, has excelled as opponents run away from fellow “Hornet” and leading tackler Darien Rankin. Jackson had 11 stops against Pisgah.
Running back Travis Smalling gashed Salisbury’s defense for 189 yards on 42 carries last year, when the Black Bears maintained possession for 31 of 48 minutes in a 17-14 playoff victory.
Smalling broke three tackles on an 18-yard carry midway through Pisgah’s first offensive series Friday, but he ended up with 77 yards on 21 attempts. The Hornets stopped him behind the line of scrimmage four times in the second half.
“We knew we weren’t going to be able to arm tackle him, so when we hit him, we had to keep our feet moving,” Jackson said. “Everybody had to run and help to gang tackle.”
Jackson finished with two tackles for loss, including a sack in which he dropped quarterback Josh Noland 10 yards behind the line.
Franklin has 67 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in part-time duty this season, and Jackson ranks second on the team with 105 tackles. He’s forced two fumbles and recovered one.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Rankin is physically imposing, and Jackson has held his own on the other edge despite being 5 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter.
“It’s a little bit of musical chairs,” Pinyan said. “At the expense of losing Figgy, which isn’t what we want, we’re getting both of those cats on the field at the same time. They’re doing a bang-up job not just playing the position they call their home position but giving us valuable snaps at other positions.”
With their help, the Hornets get to play at least one more game away from home. The winner of the 2AA Western championship advances to the state final at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill.
A large contingent of Newton-Conover fans will be on hand at Gurley Stadium to root for the Red Devils on Friday night.
“The environments have been tough,” Jackson said. “A lot of people in their crowd, a lot of noise รณ you have to learn how to play through it.”