(KMAland) -- During the month of August, KMA Sports is introducing its fifth Hall of Fame class. Today’s announcement goes to Essex, where Toby Franks became the school’s first individual state track champion. And then did it again and again.

The story on Franks, though, is unique. He didn’t have much interest in the distance running that would make him known through the state. He just wanted to play quarterback.

“I didn’t really envision being a distance runner,” Franks said. “Even back to when I was a little kid, I just wanted to play quarterback. I always demanded to be all-time quarterback when we played football on the playground.”

Things started to shift during his freshman year of track when Coach Chris Caskey — now a highly successful coach at Earlham — pushed him into some races he didn’t think he was capable of.

“I think he liked to test your boundaries sometimes,” Franks said. “He threw me into the two-mile, the one-mile and the 800 at Malvern, and I’d never run longer longer than 800 meters in junior high. When I ran the two-mile, I realized I’m kind of OK at this, and I kind of liked it actually.”

From then on, Franks said that it was very rare that he wouldn’t run the two-mile, the one-mile and some form of an 800 at every single meet throughout the rest of his track career. That paid off in a big way.

In 1998, Franks captured his first 3200 meter run state championship, running a 9:44.02. In 2000, he doubled up with a championship in the 1600 and 3200 with times of 4:22.45 and 9:40.21. In between, Franks was right in the mix for state championships in both races and the half-mile during his career.

“In 1998, the arrow was just pointing up the whole year,” Franks said. “Every single meet, I was just getting faster, faster, faster. I went from thinking that I could be a contender in the 3200 meters to thinking I might be the favorite. When I won it, I thought I might be able to win a ton of state championships.”

However, winning state championships never comes as easy as he made it look in his sophomore year. In his junior season, he came up just short, which only drove him to want more in his senior year.

“There was a focus that I needed to clean up the strategic errors,” Franks said. “That was something I really focused on, was the strategy of the race. A lot of times at state it comes down to the final 100 meters, and you had to have the best kick in the race. I realized I was getting out-kicked at the end of these races, and Mr. Caskey and I put a lot of work in improving my kick and my speed.

“Both the 3200 and 1600 meters came down to the final 100 meters, as I knew they would. The same way I had lost those races in my junior year, I was able to win those races with my kick. My weakness kind of became my strength.”

In the meantime, Franks gave up his dream of playing quarterback and playing football all together. That’s what you do when you get a phone call from legendary Shenandoah-Essex cross country coach and KMA Sports Hall of Famer Ray Graves.

“I played two years of football and only ran two years of cross country,” Franks said. “I remember after my freshman year, Coach Graves called me and wanted me to come down for cross country. After I hung up, I didn’t think anything of it, and then after sophomore year I won at state (track). Coach Graves called me again, and I listened to him that time.

“That was a really difficult decision. In the end, I decided to focus all of my time on cross country. There was a little bit of a learning curve there. I was just killing it early in the season and dominating, but I had been going hard since July. One thing I realized is that you can’t peak forever. I started to lose my edge by the end of the year, so I started to figure it out by the end of my senior year.”

Franks won a pair of Hawkeye Ten Conference championships in his two years running with the Shenandoah-Essex program. He would go on to a fine track career at Drake University, but he will always remember where it all began.

“I was really lucky to have two great running buddies during that time,” he said. “Derek Perry and Jeff Davis — both those guys were really perfect guys to train with. They pushed me and also were really gritty, gutty guys. They never shied away from anything.

“Couple that with (Coach Caskey). He had that knowledge of distance running. I thought I would be a middle to short distance runner, and he recognized something in me and converted me to a distance runner. It just really clicked.”

Franks will be inducted into the KMA Sports Hall of Fame with the rest of this year’s class at a later date to be determined. Listen to the complete interview linked below.


Lauren (Anderson) Sinner

Austin Ebertowski

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