But, after the school hired former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, it didn’t take long for the former Marietta High School star to smile.
“He surprised me,” said Franklin, a junior. “He told us he wants to run the ball, and that’s when my eyes got real big.”
Franklin was UAB’s leading rusher in 2011, with 84 carries for 430 yards and two touchdowns in the spread offense run by the Blazers’ former coach, Neil Callaway. This year, McGee has gone to a pro-style offense, similar to the one Franklin ran at Marietta, with whom he rushed for 1,575 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior.
Franklin has also made himself into more of an every-down back by bulking up his frame to 202 pounds.
“I got faster, stronger and quicker,” he said after upping his weight to more easily run between the tackles more often. “I feel a difference in my running. The weight has helped me. Now, I’ll be able to take on the bigger linebackers.”
It won’t take long for Franklin to see some of those bigger linebackers. After opening the season with Troy at home, followed by a bye week, UAB will face consecutive road trips to South Carolina and Ohio State.
It will give Franklin plenty of chances to show his skills, and more opportunities to continue a run of more than six years of holding onto the football. After not fumbling during his entire high school career, Franklin has yet to fumble in his two years with the Blazers.
“He’s a guy we have high expectations for,” UAB running backs coach Tyson Helton said. “He’s entering the stage of his career where he is the older guy.”
Franklin has been tabbed as the Blazers’ starter, and he leads what could be the best team of running backs the program have had since joining the Football Bowl Subdivision in 1996. Joining Franklin in the backfield are Georgia transfer Dontavius Jackson, Bashr Coles and Darrin Reaves.
“He can be an every-down back,” Helton said. “He’s worked hard this summer to get his body ready, but we all know, any time he gets on the edge, he’s going to make plays. He puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Another way UAB will try to utilize Franklin is by occasionally splitting him out wide as a receiver. Franklin got a few opportunities to do that last year, catching what was thought to be a 35-yard touchdown pass against Florida that was negated because of a penalty.
“He’s shown, if you don’t line up a good cover guy on him, he can beat you,” Helton said.
Helton says the biggest thing he’s seen in Franklin this year is his ownership of his position, and the way he has become a leader on the team.
“He’s as good a person as he is a player,” Helton said. “He’s the guy you want all our players to be.”