Jamie Franks believes his team “is built for knockout soccer…we have a team that can win this tournament.” Despite DU’s ascension into the top tier of NCAA soccer programs, according to Franks, “no one believes us” except his team.
Should we believe him? Is there any rational reason to expect Denver to compete for a national championship this year against the country’s traditional soccer powers? The last couple years under Franks have been incredible, but let’s face it, this is uncharted territory for the University of Denver.
Franks has no qualms about wearing his team’s goals on his sleeve. He wants and expects to travel to Houston in a few weeks and bring home some hardware. After all, who would have thought that Denver had any right to expect a lacrosse national championship just a few short years ago, even with the greatest coach of all time leading the way?
Franks is young, bold, and most importantly his program undefeated in the regular season since Halloween 2014, when DU was coached by Bobby Muuss. Even the NCAA doesn’t know for sure (yet), but it is reasonable to assume at this point that Franks is the first DI coach to ever go unbeaten in his first two regular seasons.
In an interview with College Soccer News earlier this season, Franks talked about peaking at the right time for the NCAA playoffs. He was emphatic when he said, “Our mission is to beat anybody in any condition on any given day in any given circumstance”. In another interview on the NSCAA College Soccer Podcast, Franks talked about building a tough schedule to prepare for the Pioneers for the NCAA Tournament, “It’s about winning games in knock-out competition.”
So why should we believe him when he says that Denver can go to Houston and come back champions? Here are three reasons:
- Denver is tough to play. They don’t play a set formation so they are difficult to prepare for in a one-and-done tournament. The Pioneers feature fluid movement that can morph from a 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1. They are strong down the middle & deep. As we have seen all year, they elevate their game with the quality of the competition. They possess the ball well in traffic and they are strong in the air. He calls his style “Fighting football,” similar to Jim Montgomery’s relentless Pioneer hockey with an emphasis on strong defense. According to Franks, all the work done this year was geared toward “getting ready for knockout soccer.” Teams struggle against Denver, especially in their first game against the Pios.
- According to multiple interviews with Franks, “Culture is the most important thing.” Every roster player is expected to play a role and player development and progress is a key to building roster depth. According to Franks, “Character, ambition, and fit are more important than recruiting rankings. Everybody plays an important role. It’s about getting the right person…You have to care more about them as people than players.” It’s a culture that has guided Franks every step of the way along this incredible two-year run.
- He’s only 30, but Franks already knows what it takes to win. Starting in youth soccer in New Jersey in the Player Development Academy (PDA) he was surrounded by top coaches with championship winning programs. Then, Franks played for legendary Wake Forest head coach Jay Vidovich who was known for his attention to detail. While at Wake, Franks was a part of two ACC championships, three College Cups, and won the 2007 national championship against the Ohio State Buckeyes. At only 5’7″, 150 lbs. he was known as a hard-working possession player who was relentless. After college, he played for Predrag ‘Preki’ Radosavljević and Bob Lilly professionally. So, while he is young, he has the first-hand experience to know what it takes to win at high levels and he has overcome more than a few obstacles to get there, too.
“When I started (at DU), no one wanted to say it…what do we want to do? For us, it’s about winning a national championship.”
He’s just crazy enough that they just might do it.