A three-hour time difference and 2,682 miles of distance forced the Hepler family to break multiple routines last Friday night.
Frank Hepler, Forsyth Central’s head football coach, typically gets to work analyzing that night’s game right after it ends, but after the Bulldogs’ win over Cass, Hepler was instead focused on the livestream of a game between two schools to the west of Seattle.
Hepler’s son, Frank Jr. – commonly known as “Frankie” – typically avoids checking his phone in the hours before a football game, ignoring any buzz in his pocket. But on that night, he kept sneaking looks at updates from the second-most important game of his night. And once he got the news that his father had led Central to victory, he could fully lock in on guiding North Mason against Shelton, a game that ended in a 35-14 win for Frank Jr.’s Bulldogs.
As Frank Hepler Sr. begins his third season at Central and his 10th overall coaching in Forsyth County, Frank Jr. is starting his first ever as a head coach, taking the next step in a career that has already followed closely in his father’s footsteps.
Frank Jr. has been around Forsyth County football just as long as his father: He went to and played for West Forsyth as a tight end when his father took the job of starting that program up, and he went into coaching right after graduating high school.
He spent time as a student assistant at Jacksonville State and Florida Atlantic, and when Frank Sr. came back to Georgia after spending two years in Florida, Frank Jr. came along and finished his college degree online.
After a season at Central, Frank Jr. decided to get into the college ranks and landed a job as receivers coach at Southwestern College in Kansas. He didn’t delay the dream of leading a program, however, and he applied for the North Mason job after seeing the posting on the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association’s website. After a few weeks, he had an interview, and the very next day, Frank Jr. had the job.
It couldn’t have been much further from where he grew up and where his family lived, but Frank Jr., who turns 27 this October, didn’t having anything pinning him down. He’d already relocated to Kansas, so he could go even further for a head coaching position.
“I basically said to myself, ‘Hey, what’s one more big leap?’” Frank Jr. said.
Father and son made the three-day drive from Kansas to Washington together after Frank Sr. flew out from Georgia, and Frank Jr. assumed the position as one of the youngest head coaches in the country.
Frank Jr. recognizes that, at this point, his youth is perhaps what stands out most about him as a coach. But he also makes the point that growing up in the same house as another head coach has given him experience greater than his years. He was a ballboy when Frank Sr. was coaching in Florida, and over the years, he’s seen how his father deals with every aspect of the job: setting up practice, disciplining players, dealing with referees.
“I’ll catch myself saying the same things that (my father) would say at practice,” Frank Jr. said.
The Heplers do differ somewhat in how they run a team. Frank Jr. is more of an offensive mind, and one of his main influences is Adam Clack, the former West offensive coordinator and head coach who is currently the head coach at Milton. At North Mason, Frank Jr. is running a spread offense; at Central, Frank Sr. has moved the Bulldogs to a option-based system.
Even with that difference, Frank Jr. still regularly goes to his father for coaching advice and questions. At the same time, though, Frank Sr. isn’t ruling out the possibility of his son being ahead in some areas.
“Obviously, he’s learned some things, but he’s also highly intelligent, and he’ll bring a lot of his own great ideas into the coaching world,” Frank Sr. said. “I’m going to try to learn from him.”
Frank Sr. certainly isn’t regretful about his son following a similar career path. He recognizes that coaching and teaching has its drawbacks – particularly from a money standpoint – but it also has payoffs that go well beyond the financial.
“Reward-wise, it’s been the best thing I could have ever asked to do,” Frank Sr. said. “I feel like I’ve never had to work a day in my life because of the type of job it is. If he has that feeling, than that’s going to be great.”
This week will be easier for Frank Sr. from a scheduling standpoint. North Mason plays on Thursday, so he’ll check out Central’s junior varsity game and then head home to watch Frank Jr.’s game.
He might not finish it, though, as Frank Sr. still has his own Bulldogs to worry about.
“I don’t want to be too tired for Friday,” he said.