Mizzou quarterback James Franklin surely is one of the most radiant and refreshing personalities in college football and among the most fundamentally decent representatives of the game.
Even entering his senior season, he exudes such innocence that it’s rather amusing to picture any interaction between the measured, square Franklin and rowdy, mischievous Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel last week at Manning Camp before Manziel mysteriously left early.
“Oh, no, sir, I don’t think I should do that,” you could picture Franklin responding to some rogue notion of Manziel’s.
As good a guy as he is, Franklin also is a remarkably polarizing figure, partly because he seemed to regress in an injury-plagued 2012 season after a terrific 2011 and partly because he is a combination of kindness, syrupy sweetness and, yes, goofiness. At SEC Media Days this week, he said the fans who were hardest on him last season were Mizzou’s.
He’s not tough, some somehow surmise. But that is silliness, unfortunately fanned by coach Gary Pinkel’s ill-advised blurting last season that suggested Franklin’s refusal to take a painkiller to play against Arizona State was about a shoulder that hurt too much rather than a matter of religious principle.
Argue with Franklin’s reasoning if you must, but that has nothing to do with toughness — and he demonstrated that over and over again on the field and off.
No one has ever acknowledged the depths of his injuries in 2011, when he had the fourth-best total offense season in MU history, but to see him laboring to speak after his breakout performance at Arizona State was to see someone whose ribs had taken a wretched pounding and never let up.
As for criticism of his personality and temperament and contentions he can’t lead because of that?
That didn’t seem to come up much in 2011, when he led MU to an 8-5 record by racking up 3,846 yards, throwing for 21 touchdowns and rushing for 15 more.
It came up last season, which Franklin began by hurrying back from major shoulder surgery and persevered through despite other injuries that included a concussion and a separate shoulder injury, the cumulative effect of which later led Pinkel to say he’d never seen a quarterback sustain so many injuries in one season.
Yes, Franklin has had to work on being more assertive with his teammates. No, he’s not an NFL passer and, in fact, he’s not a particularly fast runner. But as a package, he is a good college quarterback, one whose best days still may be ahead.
And part of that package is the inner strength of restraint and personal discipline. Being Franklin probably is a lot harder to do than being Manziel — and if you think about it probably a lot more rebellious than being the maverick people think quarterbacks have to be.
He shouldn’t be a divisive figure or a target but a rallying point, someone you want to see succeed because he represents so much that is good.