Mizzou quarterback James Franklin enters his final season of NCAA play with his fair share of doubters, and when you look at the recent lineage of quality quarterbacks the Tigers have had, you have to say it’s understandably so. But Gary Pinkel has named him as the Tigers starter.
His timing of stepping in to the new “Quarterback U” after the likes of Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert hasn't helped his cause. The “face-in-the-palms” type setbacks including multiple injuries and interceptions has only fueled his critics’ arsenal.
But with all that has happened, with both the good and bad, it is unavoidably Franklin’s final season at Mizzou. If you’re a fan of his, you’re hoping he can pull some of his old tricks back out. If you've soured yourself to the idea of him behind center, you’re just hoping there’s not a repeat of recent downfalls.
But for James—the man—there’s only one thing dominating his world with regard to his final year, and that’s focus.
In a candid interview, we spoke with Franklin to find out more about him and how he’s doing. The flavor of the whole encounter started much like how a phone call with an old friend might go when I asked him how he was feeling.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said with some pep. “ I feel probably the best I have since I've been here. Fundamentally I feel good, physically I feel good and emotionally I feel good.”
Feeling upbeat and having a positive mindset is key to a quarterback who’s faced adversity. His head seemed to be in the right spot.
He talked about the main positive going into this season as opposed to last saying, “I don’t have to worry about my shoulder. I was coming off of shoulder surgery, and I can focus more and be more confident in my performance in meshing with the offense better so we can move the ball down the field.”
The concept of focus came up often.
“Not just me but the other guys, too. [We] were worried about my shoulder and if it was going to last. But now we don’t really have to focus on that.”
Anyone with half a black and gold brain knows that last year was tough for Mizzou when compared to recent seasons. He was honest when asked if last season was his toughest.
“Probably, I’d say just because of all of the injuries and me mentally you know… just thinking about all the things. Letting all the outside factors affect me. I would say that last year was probably my toughest year.”
He may not quite have the numbers of his recent predecessors, but he shares and maybe even outdoes their grace. At no point did he ever blame other elements of the team or point to an injured offensive line. He simply put it square on his shoulders the way the best possible leader would.
“My sophomore year was actually pretty tough even though I had a little bit of success, it was actually pretty tough, but I’d say last year was the toughest,” he said with a quieting tone.
But perhaps one of the answers to his drive came out when we began to talk about faith. When asked about how his faith has helped him prepare, his excitement and level of intensity were visibly turned up.
“It's been 100 percent helping me out. I'm really focusing on that. I've noticed that when I do focus on that—more from a spiritual stand point, my faith—I can get through things a lot easier than if I try to figure them out ‘worldly’ so to speak,” Franklin said.
His drive has always been in his morals. Opposed to taking shots for pain and other drugs to numb down his injuries, Franklin has always been one to genuinely tough through his setbacks.
But in this his final season, he knows that part of his role will be handing the quarterbacking duties (and essentially the team) off to a new generation of players. Does he see good things on the horizon?
“I was talking with L’Damian Washington about that a couple days ago, how we have a lot of talent. Young talent,” he said with a smile. “We have still a lot of talent now that we’ll have next year and the following years so we’re feeling really excited about that.”
With regard to the man that he may be handing the reigns to, I had to ask about how Maty Mauk was doing.
“He always asking questions and always talking to me and communicating about what we should do, what we shouldn't do, what we needed to do… things like that," he said. "He’s been doing a really good job.”
Before the end of our talk and parting ways, I wished him the best and asked him what his favorite part about Columbia was. He kind of chuckled. “It’s not a big city, but it’s also not a small town. It’s a little bit in between.”
Behind the helmet, James Franklin is a stand-up class act. He has his opponents that also wear black and gold, and to them I say this; that given the rough set of circumstances, I don’t think there’s anyone that you’d rather have in this situation right now than him. Through it all he hasn't lost his focus but more importantly, he is simply capable of having focus when things have been rockier than his predecessors ever had to face.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.