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The solution? JUCO transfer John Franklin III ready to push fellow Auburn QBs for starting spot

Michael Niziolek


EMCC quarterback John Franklin III attempts a pass during the regular season. (Bob Smith | East Mississippi Community College)
EMCC quarterback John Franklin III attempts a pass during the regular season. (Bob Smith | East Mississippi Community College)

John Franklin III is done waiting his turn.

Franklin spent two seasons buried on the depth chart behind Jameis Winston at Florida State only to have the Seminoles’ coaching staff hand the keys to the offense to transfer Everett Golson.

The Florida native decided to transfer to East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) for the fall where he split time at quarterback with Wyatt Roberts.

The journey was a humbling one for an athlete described by those close to him as supremely confident.

“It was rough,” Franklin said. “I learned a lot about myself and my passion for football. When I wasn’t playing so much, I found that love of the game. Going without something can change a person. I probably took it for granted.”

Auburn started recruiting Franklin in late September with offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee leading the effort. The Tigers presented the career path Franklin hoped for when he committed to FSU over Tennessee on signing day back in 2013.

Franklin’s arrival on campus Sunday as an early enrollee marks the beginning of a quarterback competition he plans on winning.

Being Nick Marshall

Nick Marshall is a name that keeps popping up on Franklin’s radar.

It started when the then-freshman played the Nick Marshall role on Florida State’s scout team during bowl practices leading up to the 2014 BCS National Championship.

“I ran the offense on the scout team for two weeks,” Franklin said. “I felt like I could this everyday. It was probably my favorite two weeks of the season.”

Franklin was a perfect fit for the part thanks to his size — Franklin was 6-foot-0, 180 pounds; Marshall was 6-foot-1, 210 pounds during his junior season — and the striking similarities in their games.

Marshall’s arm strength and athleticism made him one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country leading Auburn to the national title game.

Franklin came into college a hair faster than Marshall with a 40-yard dash time measured at 4.38 and also possessed a cannon for an arm.

“He almost has world-class speed and it’s amazing how many revolutions he can put on the ball,” EMCC quarterbacks coach Clint Trickett said.

Marshall’s name came up again for Franklin when Gus Malzahn called him in the fall.

“He said when he needed a quarterback he got Cam (Newton), he needed a quarterback he got Nick and now they needed a quarterback again,” Franklin said. “He’s had success with guys in my situation.”

When Auburn’s offense struggled in the fall, the coaching staff was quick to reach out with an offer. 

“I think everybody saw that they struggled at quarterback,” Franklin said. “A blind man could tell you that.”

Franklin’s words might sound like criticism, but there’s not a hint of spite in his voice.

Auburn’s own coaching staff stressed the importance of adding a quarterback with Franklin’s skill set — one very similar to Nick Marshall’s — back into the mix.

“It’s ironic,” Franklin said with a chuckle. “Playing against them in the national title game two years ago. Hopefully, we will be playing in the national title again and I won’t be doing the mimicking.”

Back to basics

Franklin’s stats from EMCC don’t exactly jump off the page.

The quarterback put up modest numbers throwing for 733 yards and two touchdowns with 451 rushing yards (10.5 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns for a Lions team that finished 8-1. 

His one standout performance came in EMCC’s season-finale against Mississippi Delta. Franklin ran for 172 yards in the 48-0 win with touchdown runs of 65, 33, 29, 13 and 5 yards all in the first half. He also threw for 119 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 16 passing.

Franklin’s effectiveness on a week-to-week basis mattered less than the opportunity to step into the huddle, get first team practice reps and work on his technique.

“He just started playing quarterback as a junior in high school, so he was still a raw talent,” Trickett said.

Trickett recruited Franklin with the understanding the quarterback wanted a second shot at competing for a Division 1 starting job.

“He didn’t need to be sitting,” Trickett said. “He needed to be perfecting his craft and that’s exactly what he could do with us. He could be competing with and against top competition so he would be polished for the spring.”

EMCC’s pedigree for developing talent speaks for itself. The team has won three NJCAA National Championships (2011, 2013-14) while developing quarterbacks including Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Bo Wallace (Ole Miss), Randall Mackey (Ole Miss), Jaquez Johnson (Florida Atlantic) and Donreal Pruitt (Troy).

Trickett, a former starter at West Virginia, focused on improving Franklin’s accuracy by working on the sophomore’s footwork “that was all out of whack” and throwing motion.

“All he needed was reps,” Trickett said. “Sitting behind Jameis and Maguire as a third wheel he wasn’t getting the kind of work he needed.”

The quarterback coach Franklin’s worked with since high school Cedric Alexander noted the improvements in the quarterback’s game when the two worked out together back in the Fort Lauderdale area in December.

“What I saw was good decision making, good footwork and he’s more deliberate with the football instead of just being reactionary,” Alexander said.

Confident not cocky

Auburn players gave Franklin a message to take home when he visited campus during the Iron Bowl.

“Get ready and lets go.”

Franklin was familiar with a few players on the roster — Ricardo Louis and other junior college transfer out of Mississippi — but was surprised how many players he didn’t know came up to him in the locker room after the game.

“Coming into a new situation doesn’t bother me,” Franklin said. “I’m going to let my actions do the talking that’s just the type of player I am. I’m a fierce competitor.”

A fierce competitor who can picture himself on Sept. 3 against Clemson breaking the huddle as Auburn’s starter.

“If I wasn’t confident in myself why would I expect anybody to be confident in me? I’ve been like that since I was four years old,” Franklin said.

For former quarterbacks, Franklin’s self-assurance is a necessary part of the job.

“When you get in that huddle you have to tell 10 other guys what to do, and they have to believe what you are saying,” Alexander said.

Trickett, who calls Franklin an unselfish teammate and tireless worker, shares a similar view.

“You have to be confident in your ability,” Trickett said. “You have to have the mindset every time you step on the field you are going to lead your team down to score.”

Franklin knows what kind of challenge is in front of him as he looks to displace returning quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Sean White and beating out fellow Class of 2016 signee Woody Barrett.

“You can say a million things, but if you aren’t backing them up it don’t mean a thing,” Franklin said. “I feel like things are finally falling into place.”

Michael Niziolek covers Auburn football for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Email him at mniziolek@ledger-enquirer.com or follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+

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