Now, he’s about to do something no current Bulldog has done — or will ever do — and that’s start against Florida at the Swamp.
The former Marietta High School standout, will be the starting tailback when UAB opens its season Saturday night in front of 90,000 Gator fans in Gainesville.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Franklin, a sophomore who rushed for 53 yards in limited playing time for the Blazers in 2010. “I’m looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd. I may be a little nervous at first, but after the first snap it should go away.”
Franklin can say that because of past experience. During his freshman season, he played on special teams the first three games of the season. But, when he got his first chance to line up at running back, Franklin was playing in the only stadium in the SEC that makes the Swamp look small — Tennessee’s 102,000 seat Neyland Stadium.
Now consider the case of Franklin’s UAB teammate, and fellow Cobb County product, Kennard Backman.
The former Whitefield Academy standout will be making his college debut as the Blazers’ starting tight end — as a true freshman.
A year ago, Backman was opening his season against Walker, on Whitefield’s cozy home field. This year, he’ll be kicking off the season at Florida, where he’ll likely be eye-to-eye with pre-season All-SEC linebacker Jon Bostic or 6-foot-4, 295-pound defensive end Sharrif Floyd.
No offense to the Walker School, but I don’t think they have too many kids on their campus the size of Floyd.
Welcome to college football, Kennard.
It’s enough to make his head spin.
“College football is totally different,” Backman said. It’s almost like a different sport. You can’t rely on your physical ability. In high school, you could get away with things because you were bigger, faster or stronger. Now everybody is like that.
“But I never thought, three or four years (after first taking up football at Whitefield), that I would be lining up against Florida.”
In fact, five years ago, Backman would have never thought about playing football — period. He was a basketball player when he arrived at Whitefield Academy, but as he grew into what has become his 6-4, 235-pound frame, football coach Jimmy Fields convinced Backman he had talent that could translate to the gridiron.
And even though he’s folded up his basketball shorts, that doesn’t mean Backman’s not totally abandoning his former sport.
“I think it’s helped with my footwork and stamina,” he said. “You have to use your feet to guard and block and the stamina has helped with my routes.”
Good feet will only help Backman so much in Gainesville, but he got a little extra advice from two of his former Whitefield teammates now in the collegiate ranks — Vanderbilt defensive end Marc Panu and Wake Forest defensive end Kris Redding.
“They talked about how much more serious football is at this level,” Backman said, “because it’s a job coming out with the hard hat every day.”
One person that thinks Backman is ready is Franklin. Not only has Backman’s work in camp that vaulted him to the top of the depth chart, but also the sense of bravado and confidence he exudes.
“He stood out (in fall camp) with his ability to catch the ball,” Franklin said.
“I was in the huddle (last week) and asked him, ‘Are you ready? What are you going to do? Are you nervous?’ He said, ‘I’m not nervous.’”
Backman played his entire football career in front of 500 to 1,500 people, but don’t think he won’t have jitters or butterflies in his stomach about what awaits for him in four days.
“Well, I’m not nervous — yet,” he said.
Starting from the get-go, Backman is now expected to hold on to his job for the next four years.
Franklin, on the other hand, will be trying to earn more playing time for his. He is currently filling in as the starting tailback because UAB’s leading rusher from last season, Pat Shed, is down for a few weeks with a sports hernia.
Ironically, it was an injury — a broken ankle — suffered by Franklin in the Cobb Senior Bowl following the 2009 season that might have kept him from grabbing the starting spot during his freshman year. But now that he’s completely healthy, Franklin says he’s ready to go.
“Last year, I was just trying to get used to the plays,” he said. “But I’m ready for it. I feel comfortable now, and my ankle is 100 percent.”
In addition, the once small-framed Franklin has gotten bigger (bulking up from 172 to 190 pounds) and faster (dropping his time in the 40-yard sprint from the high 4.4-second range to the low 4.4s).
With those kinds of numbers, it’s hard to believe Franklin isn’t playing in the ACC or SEC — he had offers from N.C. State, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia before deciding on the Blazers. But after his injury, some schools began to back off.
“I felt like they wanted me,” Franklin said on signing day in the winter of 2010.
Now, he gets to prove that he would have belonged playing in the country’s largest stadiums.
And it’s a fair bet that Saturday many of the Georgia fans — who hate anything orange and blue — will be rooting for he, Backman and the Blazers, too.
John Bednarowski is sports editor of the Marietta Daily Journal. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jbednarowski.