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Docuseries spotlights Auburn QB John Franklin III as motivated, brash talent with untapped potential

Auburn quarterback John Franklin III gets ready for a game at East Mississippi Community College.
Auburn quarterback John Franklin III gets ready for a game at East Mississippi Community College. Courtesy of Netflix

A coaching staff reviewing film of John Franklin III sits in a darkened room.

The offensive coordinator worries about the quarterback’s sporadic arm while the head coach considers the Florida native’s upside.

“John just gives you something, he has that explosion,” the head coach says.

It’s easy to imagine the scene playing out this summer on the Plains with Auburn coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee stepping into the aforementioned roles.

The scenario wasn’t a hypothetical one last fall at East Mississippi Community College (EMCC) where filmmakers captured the exchange for Netflix’s latest documentary “Last Chance U.”

The streaming giant is the exclusive home for six-part series debuting in its entirety July 29.

Executive producer and director Greg Whiteley spent four months on EMCC’s campus getting to know each member of the football team, a program known as a pit stop for Division 1 talent looking for second chances.

Franklin, who transferred to Auburn in January, established himself as a central figure in the series on the first day of filming.

“I love John Franklin,” Whiteley said in a phone interview last week. “He has the kind of bravado that’s Muhammad Ali-like.”

Franklin is major presence in the first two episodes of the series Netflix made available for early viewing. The detailed press notes provided by the network’s publicity team promise the quarterback’s role stays that way through the series’ entire run.

The one-time Florida State backup has been the subject of intense interest this offseason as he competes for Auburn’s starting quarterback job.

With unique behind the scenes access, “Last Chance U” offers an intimate look at Franklin’s brief stint at EMCC.

“I ain’t never think I’d end up in junior college,” Franklin tells a teammate in the early moments of the first episode.

Franklin presents himself as a superstar in the making, motivated by his failure at Florida State and willing to tell anyone who will listen of his desire to spend as little time as possible in Scooba.

“It’s all about the team, but you got to worry about yourself too to a certain extent,” Franklin says in an on-camera interview. “I came here for one reason and one reason only; honestly, to get me back to the level I’m supposed to be at.”

Franklin’s brash personality didn’t vanish when the cameras stopped rolling. Whiteley, who has four feature length documentaries under his belt, describes Franklin as genuine as any subject he’s come across.

“We are good at sniffing out inauthentic moments and will wait them out, but there weren’t very many of those,” Whiteley said.

One of the storylines that dominates the early episodes is Franklin’s competition with EMCC returning starter Wyatt Roberts.

The coaching staff sees Roberts as a capable passer without the superstar qualities of the many former All-Americans — including Chad Kelly and Bo Wallace — coach Buddy Stephens tabbed to lead the team.

“(Wyatt) He’s extremely consistent,” EMCC quarterback coach Clint Trickett said. “He gets the ball where it needs to be, knows the offense in and out, but there’s no way he should be in a battle with John.”

Trickett, a former Division 1 quarterback himself, puts it in plain terms describing Franklin as a corvette and Roberts as a truck.

“John has every tool in the world,” Trickett said.

Franklin’s natural talent isn’t enough to overcome his late arrival — he didn’t decide to transfer to EMCC until a month and a half before fall camp — and an offensive system designed for more of a traditional pocket passer.

“They rely on a passing scheme that’s not best suited for Franklin’s skill set,” Whiteley said. “From what I know about Auburn, their scheme is. At the same time, his time at EMCC forced him to develop the type of passing game that will serve him for rest of his career.”

The early returns weren’t as positive for EMCC with Franklin struggling to assert himself, and throwing more trash talk at opponents than touchdowns.

“I promise you when I get in it’s about to get ugly real quick,” Franklin says while waiting his turn during EMCC’s season-opener against Southwest Mississippi.

Franklin makes good on the promise in the second half throwing for 186 yards and three touchdowns, but the good vibes are short-lived.

Stephens names Franklin the starter for a week two matchup against Copiah-Lincoln as the team goes for a record 26th straight win. The entire 50-plus minute run time of the second episode is dedicated to the rivalry game.

Franklin’s most notable contributions to the episode are a handful of unflattering moments —he gets into an argument with his academic advisor over sneaking a girl out of his private dorm days before the game, gets benched after two series and is captured on the sidelines questioning the coaching staff’s play calling.

“Why you got to throw the ball on fourth and one,” Franklin says to a teammate. “He (offensive coordinator Marcus Wood) need to call the right s---. Why you going to throw the ball on fourth and one at the goal line. We got all the backs back here, that’s dumb as f---.”

Whiteley understands how Franklin comes off in the episode, but warns against rushing to judement. The filmmaker promises the audience will come away liking Franklin as much as he does when his story plays out in later episodes.

“Everybody thought he was a likeable guy,” Whiteley said. “From what we could see everyone (on the team) loved him. Everyone thought he could help them win football games, and that’s a big deal at EMCC.”