HOOVER, Ala. — The question seemed innocent enough. On Tuesday, the first day of the Southeastern Conference Media Days, Missouris sunny, bow-tie wearing senior quarterback James Franklin was essentially asked about the way opposing SEC fans treated him last season.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
His answer, which predictably spread like wildfire on Twitter and message boards, was revealing.
Well actually, probably the rudest fans that I experienced were Mizzou, my own fans, Franklin said with a laugh. I really dont try to pay attention to that stuff, but Id say I heard some pretty not-so-nice comments from my own fans.
Franklin later clarified that he thought he was being asked to talk about the rudest comment he received from a fan all season, and who the person was a fan of (Mizzou, it turns out). It was, he said, not an indictment of an entire fan base; just the one person who said something so rude to him at one point last year that he refused to repeat it Tuesday.
Still, his response paints a picture of the kind of criticism Franklin who has earned a reputation for his earnestness and honesty during his four-plus years at Mizzou has had to endure both in person and via social media over the last year, when an assortment of physical ailments contributed to a subpar 2012 season in which the Tigers limped to a 5-7 record and missed a bowl for the first time since 2004.
He had more injuries and more things happen to him than any quarterback Ive ever coached, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.
For the better part of six months now, Franklin who accounted for nearly 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2011 has been out to prove that last year was an aberration, while still maintaining the happy-go-lucky nature that makes him unique, but also gets him in hot water at times (as it did Tuesday).
I do have to be careful because sometimes you come across of not taking it too seriously, or (people think) he doesnt care, Franklin said.
But Franklin insists he does, and as he repeatedly told the large media contingent at the Wynfrey Hotel on Tuesday, he is hopeful the steps hes taken since January will ensure a bounce-back 2013.
For one thing, he says he feels the best he has, physically, since he enrolled at Missouri in 2009. And this March, he spent some time in California working with noted quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. And last week, Franklin worked as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodeaux, La., where he rubbed shoulders with some of college footballs best quarterbacks, not to mention NFL stars Peyton and Eli Manning.
The biggest takeaway from the two experiences, Franklin said, is a renewed passion for fundamentals. Pinkel repeatedly said last season that injuries hindered Franklins throwing mechanics at times, leading to general inaccuracy.
Just having the right footwork, following through with the arm, keeping a wide base, things like that, Franklin said, when asked for some specific areas hes working on. Even though they seem so small, it really affects (you).
Perhaps most important, Franklin a self-admitted lead-by-example type has worked actively to establish himself as the teams vocal leader, something the coaching staff asked him to do.
This summer, I kind of approached it with the mind-set of We dont know who the starter is going to be, its going to be decided in the fall, Franklin said. And then, as Ive gotten to know my team better and Ive gotten to work with them more, (I realized) they dont want that from their quarterback. They dont want their quarterback, the week before the season starts or when two-a-days start, saying Oh, you know, I hope I get the job. They want their quarterback to be like No, its mine. So Ive tried to take that approach.
Receiver LDamian Washington, who also represented Missouri at Hoover along with senior linebacker Andrew Wilson, has noticed a change.
I wouldnt say hes a totally different guy, but he has more of a fire under him, Washington said. So (seeing) some things like (him) yelling at guys, I like that. Like I told him earlier, Im a huge James Franklin fan and I like when hes back there under center.
Washington better, because Franklin just might be Missouris best option at the position come fall. While Pinkel, who opened up the quarterback competition in the spring, reiterated that the three-man race for the job wont be settled until preseason camp begins in August, he admitted that Franklin is the leader in the clubhouse.
James is the starter going in, and well just see how it unfolds, said Pinkel, who added that Franklin has a little edge now and is mentally tougher than he was.
Still, its clear Franklin wont be making any wholesale changes to his personality. When asked Tuesday whether he feels any pressure to seize the job, he simply flashed his toothy grin and cheerily answered, a reminder that for all the work hes done and all the heat hes taken, he will remain true to himself, whether it pleases the masses or not.
When you put on the shoulder pads, it adds about 6 or 7 pounds, so I say I have that 6 or 7 pounds of pressure, Franklin joked. Its not too bad.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.