Sky’s the limit for record-setting running back Franklin
LOS ANGELES – There is a tremendous view from Johnathan Franklin’s office.
A throng of people pass by along Bruin Walk, that ribbon of concrete that separates the Morgan Center and Wooden Center on the UCLA campus. Franklin, the Bruins’ senior running back, sits on the steps outside Wooden Center enjoying the scene.
A student calls out to him. A few others give him a “hi-there” wave. A teammate, joking, asks that he pose for a photo. The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful day.
This is where Franklin conducts business when not running through opposing defenses or visiting the Mattel Children’s Hospital or finishing the final class to get his degree. He doesn’t seek the spotlight, but it has certainly focused on him this season.
“I love hanging out right here,” says Franklin, who has claimed that spot since he came to UCLA. “It’s cool to get to know as many students as you can.”
One stops, shouts “hello,” and takes a photo. The meet-and-greet comes naturally to a political science major who says he plans on someday being mayor of Los Angeles.
A UCLA season that almost didn’t happen became one that gets Franklin recognized in restaurants. He was ready in January to declare for the NFL draft, but some soul-searching kept him in Westwood.
Few career moves work out this well.
Franklin has broken the UCLA career and single-season rushing records. His 1,700 yards are fifth-most in the nation this season. He was named second-team All-American by the AP and was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award.
More important to him, the Bruins beat USC, reached the Pac-12 championship game and came oh-so-close to their first Rose Bowl appearance since 1999.
Franklin has deep religious convictions, insists that his success comes from God’s blessings and is rooted in his teammates’ gritty work.
He had 1,127 yards rushing as a sophomore and 976 as a junior last season. From his redshirt season through his junior year, UCLA had a 21-30 record, including four losses to rival USC.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Franklin said. “We had been through so much adversity here. The coaching was up and down. Guys’ attitudes weren’t there. I thought I wanted to leave.”
First, though, he met with Jim Mora, the Bruins’ newly hired coach.
“We talked for about a half-hour,” Mora said. “I learned what a special human being he is. That decision was hard for him.”
Franklin talked with his mother and teammates and prayed. He came back a few days later and told Mora he was staying. “I really didn’t feel peace about leaving.”
What happened can be argued was the most productive season a UCLA running back has ever had, highlighted by a 171-yard performance in a 38-28 victory over USC.
“I go back to the neighborhood where I grew up and people are wearing UCLA T-shirts,” said Franklin, who played at L.A.’s Dorsey High.
Quarterback Brett Hundley, Franklin’s other roommate, said, “He can’t walk across campus without drawing attention. It’s amazing what can change in a couple of months.”
Franklin gained 214 yards rushing against Rice in the season opener. A week later, he had 217 yards in a 36-30 victory over Nebraska.
He walked into a restaurant days later and was stunned to be greeted by so many strangers who recognized him.
“I was like, ‘Wow, it is such a blessing,’ to know where I was last year and how everything is right now,” Franklin said. He also knew, “There’s a responsibility that comes with that. You have to keep your life in order.”