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September 25, 2019

Hogan: Franklin fighting the enemy within

The post-practice trip to BMO Field from Lamport Stadium was essentially the same for James Franklin on Tuesday.

The five-to-seven-minute walk led him back toward the locker room, but on this day, there was one slight variation for the quarterback. Instead of walking straight into the building, he veered slightly to the right, where he was greeted by a half-dozen reporters.

It meant one thing. The media wanted to hear from the man who was once again the starting quarterback for the Toronto Argonauts.

“Yes sir,” was the polite-as-usual response from Franklin, when asked off the top of the media scrum if he was starting this week.

News leaked out on Monday that No. 8 was again No. 1 on the depth chart, moving ahead of McLeod Bethel-Thompson, who struggled last week.  It will be Franklin’s first start since Week Three, when he suffered a lower-body injury in a game in Regina.

It’s the latest twist in what has been for the most part a tale that Stephen King would be proud of.

Franklin arrived in Toronto in December 2017, acquired in a deal with Edmonton just days after the Argos won the Grey Cup. He was a potential free agent that signed in Toronto before the F.A. market opened, despite not knowing what the future of Ricky Ray was going to be.

When the future Hall-of-Famer announced he was going to return instead of retiring, Franklin’s role was defined. He was the back-up until something dramatic happened.

Something dramatic did happen in the Argos second game of the season in 2018. Ray suffered what turned out to be a career-ending neck injury, handing the keys to the Argos offence to Franklin, who promptly won his first start.

It looked like the man that most experts predicted would be the next star CFL quarterback was off to a great start.

That would change, and quickly.

After starting the next three games, all losses, he was benched by Head Coach Marc Trestman, someone with whom Franklin never meshed. He’d remain the back-up for the next eight games.

After being named the starter in the off-season, Franklin’s injury in Week Three again moved him out of the starter’s job. When he returned, Bethel-Thompson had the Argos offence humming, so the Missouri product again found himself waiting.

Now, after being the backup for four games, he’s once again the starter. It’s a relief for someone who has found it tough to be QB2.

“I was just telling Derel (Walker) today,” said Franklin. “The African proverb ‘If there is no enemy within, the enemy outside can do no harm.’ That’s really what I was struggling with, just the enemy within. That was really the hardest thing.”

James Franklin is a matter-of-fact man. The 28-year old is exceedingly polite and tries to answer questions honestly without delving into the world of clichés. That honesty, along with an inordinate amount of time to think about the big picture, has allowed him to remember what got him this far in his career.

“The biggest takeaway was going back to an aggressive mindset,” explained the QB. “Before coming here, I was aggressive, thinking the big play first. Not necessarily forcing it, but just how it made my mind process things as far as seeing the defence really well, really wanting something, but I’m okay with not forcing it. Whereas, after coming here, kind of conditioning myself to think ‘okay, safe throw, be careful, don’t try to make anything happen.’ Everyone knows if you don’t take risks, some people say you don’t get rich, or you don’t grow, and I wasn’t doing very much growing.”

The same can’t be said of Jamal Campbell, and not just because he’s 6’6”, 305 pounds. It was a make-or-break season for him, and he’s responded, starting most of the season at right tackle, growing more and more comfortable with each start.

He’s seen his teammate go through a tough three-month period and is happy that’s he’s back, albeit feeling bad for Bethel-Thompson.

Campbell says Franklin’s return does add something to the offence.

“He brings energy, he brings boost,” said the York product. “With our quarterback group this year, they all bring something different. He brings a different energy.”

It’s difficult at times for those who are in the lineup to look at their injured teammates. There’s an element of making sure the right thing is said to someone going through a tough time, both physically and mentally.

“It’s a tricky thing,” confessed Campbell. “Every individual is different. For the most part you feel it out, you let a guy tell you how he wants it to go. James has always been consistent throughout the process. He’s always been a team player and a friend.”

It hasn’t been all bad this season for Franklin, who was raised in Corinth, Texas, just north of Dallas. He’s an extremely proud family man, the father of two daughters, the youngest born just over a month ago.

“It definitely helps to have a happy family at home,” said a now broadly smiling Franklin. “I’m always going to be myself at home, no matter the frustrations here. I’m one of those guys that when things are going bad here, I don’t want to take it home. I want to go play with my daughters.”

Franklin is in a good spot personally; the goal is to now become as happy at work as he is at home. Stringing together some wins at the end of this season would go a long way in accomplishing that goal.a