Franklin shines after figuring he was finished

James Franklin

James Franklin, fresh off wowing the CFL with three TD passes in under 20 minutes last week, won’t start at quarterback Friday against the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

That’s fine with him.

He’s just surprised he’s an Edmonton Eskimo at all – especially after head coach Chris Jones delivered to him football’s version of the kiss of death.

It was a few months ago, said Franklin in an interview, after an Eskimos tryout camp in Nebraska.

“He (Jones) talked about (me) possibly pursuing indoor football to develop my skills, things like that,” said Franklin in an interview.

“I just kind of got a feel like, ‘OK there’s no way I’m on this team.’

“Then I get a call a week or two later.”

That call was an escape ramp off the end of road for the 24-year-old who, like his father Willie, had been tossed on football’s scrap heap for not going along.

Willie Franklin, now 65, was a rising talent at Oklahoma University until coaches found out in 1971 he was also going out for track and field.

Willie wasn’t serious about OU Football, they said, so they dumped him on the scout team, tried to run him off the squad.

Only a four-touchdown performance in the alumni game caught the eye of pro scout and a led to a four-game career in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts.

“My faith is the thing that kept me from being bitter,” said Willie in an interview from Texas.

Willie, an evangelical minister, said for him sports was never the end goal, but a means to help his mom and siblings get off welfare, avoid crushing poverty in San Diego, and try to heal a family tree riven by alcoholism.

Willie cleaned restaurants in junior college, subsisting on Snickers and the leavings off customers’ plates.

He went out for wrestling because he was told they’d feed him on the road. Try out for track? Will they feed me? Yes. He set an OU record for javelin that still stands, and was All-American in track and football.

James grew up the youngest sibling to three athletic sisters in Missouri.

He was five-foot-seven and 185 pounds in Grade 4 and 200 pounds by Grade 6, said Willie.

James started out playing baseball. He had a wicked fastball, hitting 87 mph on the gun in middle school.

James excelled at many sports but said by Grade 4 he was drawn to football and the “the physicality of it.”

The family moved to Texas.

Willie pushed his son to excel.

They would do pushups while watching football on TV. By high school, father and son did 5,000 jump ropes a day, 2,000 push ups every night.

James was a beast on the field. On one running play he knocked off a couple of defenders’ helmets, earning him the nickname “Tank.”

At the University of Missouri came success as a quarterback but also setbacks. In his junior year he ripped up his throwing shoulder, tore up his knee, and had a concussion.

There were reports that James was soft, wouldn’t take a cortisone shot to play through the shoulder pain.

Willie fired back in the media, castigating a football culture that urges kids to deaden the body’s natural warning system to serve fleeting gridiron glory.

James rebounded in his senior year but at draft time, NFL scouts said he was a better fit at tight end.

No, said James, I’m a quarterback. He went undrafted.

He was a spare body in the Detroit Lions 2014 training camp and was close to hanging up the cleats when Eskimo Kendial Lawrence, an ex-college teammate, urged him to try the CFL.

So far, it’s a small but impressive statistical sample for the 6-2, 225 pound pivot.

He shone in one pre-season game, going 10-for-17 for 159 yards and running for two TDs.

Against Winnipeg last week he took over for starter Matt Nichols and went five for eight for 82 yards, including an impressive over-the-shoulder rainbow fade to a streaking Adarius Bowman in the corner of the endzone.

Jones said this week that Nichols, serviceable in three starts replacing the injured Mike Reilly, will start. But he wouldn’t say if Nichols is on a quick hook.

Franklin says he’ll be ready, taking a page from a man who showed him how being ready is its own reward.

– CP

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