Joey Banks and Robert Sanders don't have to be in the Halloween season to savor their noxious brew.
The seniors on the Franklin High School football team cherish their pickle juice, heavy on vinegar, which they insist hydrates their weary souls. It's a liquid you'd half expect to see bubbling over on this night of trick or treat.
"Oh no, we love 'The Juice,' " said Banks, eyes widening for emphasis.
Banks and Sanders play every snap for the Wildcats: running backs, linebackers and on special teams. Each has been prone to cramping during games, knots forming on their calves that knock them flat on their backs. So they never hesitate to reach for a concoction that only they are brave enough to sip on Franklin's sideline, pinching their noses and insisting it does a body good.
"It's really not that bad," Sanders said. "You just don't want to spill it. It's impossible to get the smell out of your clothes."
No. 15 Franklin (5-3) was able to exhume the stink from back-to-back losses – a 42-7 drubbing by Jesuit in Week 4 and a 30-20 loss to Grant in Week 6 – with two consecutive victories that have turned the Wildcats' season around.
Franklin rolled Davis 47-7 and followed with a 28-21 victory over then-No. 2 Elk Grove that sent a message to the Sac-Joaquin Section that the Wildcats will be a team to be reckoned with in the Division I playoffs.
The win over Elk Grove was a come-of-age victory for a young and inexperienced Franklin team that graduated every offensive starter from its 12-1 squad a year ago. Only Banks and Sanders returned as full-time defensive starters.
Banks led the defensive charge with 26 tackles against Elk Grove, which was stopped by the Wildcats at the 2-yard line in the closing seconds. Sanders rushed for 57 yards and a touchdown. He also helped Banks up after plays when Banks wasn't first helping him up.
Banks sat out the win against Davis to recharge. He initially balked at the idea, insisting he needed to be in gear. But he was overruled by coach Mike Johnson.
"We forced Joey to sit out the Davis game, and it was major torture for him," Johnson said. "It worked. He was healthy against Elk Grove, and he had one of the best games I've ever seen, wreaking havoc."
Besides his high tackle count, Banks had five of Franklin's eight sacks.
"I give it my all, and I hated to sit against Davis," Banks said. "I can see why we did it. But Sanders and me, we talked: 'Bro, you want to switch numbers so I can go out there?' "
The ultimate compliment for athletes comes from praise by a chief rival. Elk Grove coach Chris Nixon said Banks and Sanders are difference-makers.
"Sanders had some great runs and catches and broke our back," Nixon said. "I won't miss scheming against Banks next year. He is a great pursuer. You never seem to shake him. (He makes) a lot of 'how did he do that?' kind of plays."
Banks and Sanders lead by effort and words.
"For us, it's who are the emotional, intellectual and physical leaders?" Johnson said. "Rob is the true leader and voice, the one talking to the guys before the game. Joey is the physical leader, never backs down, always competes."
Franklin starts an all-underclassmen offensive line along with a sophomore quarterback, Lamar Jackson. Jabbari Johnson is a first-year starting senior who caught two touchdown passes against Elk Grove.
While the future looks bright, so does the present, Banks and Sanders say.
At 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, Banks has scholarship offers from Sacramento State and UC Davis. Sanders, 5-9 and 165, is hopeful of offers soon, too.
Earlier this season, Johnson had a heart-to-heart discussion with Sanders, something they've engaged in several times over the years.
"I coached him when he was 12 years old, and he's grown big time as a player and young man," Johnson said. "He was me, me, me, a prima donna, rock star in Pop Warner. I butted heads with him: 'This isn't about you. It's a team, and you're going to learn.' And he did. I told him recently, 'I have so much respect for you as a player and leader. I'm really proud of you.' "
Sanders said Johnson has been "great for me" and has allowed him to be "the player I am today."
Sanders and Banks vow to remain in constant motion in the coming weeks – until the cramping. Then it's a labored move to the pickle juice and ointment.
"They're on the sideline, rubbing down with Icy Hot, sipping the pickle juice, then running by me to say, 'I'm good!' " Johnson said. "I have one request on the juice. Keep it capped good. It's a miserable, super-nasty smell, and we'll never get it out of our ball bag. But these kinds of kids, this is why you coach. You love seeing them enjoy this kind of year."
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
Games start 7-7:30 p.m.
Florin vs. Kennedy at Monterey Trail
The Bee's Top 20
Ponderosa at No. 1 Folsom
No. 2 Pleasant Grove at No. 4 Oak Ridge
No. 3 Del Oro at Nevada Union
No. 5 Rocklin at Roseville
No. 6 Elk Grove at Monterey Trail
No. 7 Rio Linda at Oakmont
Woodcreek at No. 8 Granite Bay
No. 9 Grant at Davis
Valley vs. No. 10 Burbank at Cosumnes River College, 5:30 p.m.
Pioneer at No. 11 Inderkum
Natomas at No. 12 Yuba City
No. 19 Christian Brothers at No. 13 Casa Roble
No. 14 Jesuit at Sheldon
No. 15 Franklin at Laguna Creek
Liberty Ranch at No. 16 Cosumnes Oaks
Cordova at No. 18 Whitney
Colfax at No. 20 Placer
Bear River at Lincoln
Bella Vista at Del Campo
Center at Foothill
Delta at Woodland Christian
Dixon at Marysville
El Dorado at Union Mine
Encina at Golden Sierra
Highlands at Vacaville
Lindhurst at Mesa Verde
Mira Loma at El Camino
River City at Galt
River Valley at Woodland
Sacramento at Rosemont
San Juan at Bradshaw Christian
West Campus at Capital Christian
The Bee's Top 20
No. 17 Antelope at Rio Americano, 2 p.m.
McClatchy at Johnson, 1 p.m.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD, check out Preps Plus Insiders every Monday at blogs.sacbee.com/preps and listen to his "Extra Point" every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.