Franklin Fulfilling His Potential

By Michelle Smith

College football players all over the country are putting in their time, sweat and effort on the field and in the weight room, but it's hard to imagine that any of them wants to succeed more than UCLA tailback Johnathan Franklin.

It was a short trip from Dorsey High in Los Angeles for Franklin to get to UCLA. But Franklin and the Bruins still are a long way from where they want to be.

UCLA is 1-1 following last week's win over San Jose State, and are heading into a big Saturday showdown against Texas at the Rose Bowl, a game that could set UCLA on a better course heading into the start of conference play.

The excitement in Franklin's voice when he talks of his desire to help turn the UCLA program into a winner is unmistakable.

"I cannot wait for us to play to our potential," Franklin said. "I cannot wait."

Franklin, a redshirt junior, is ready for more success in Westwood. UCLA went 7-6 in his freshman season and 4-8 last year when he was the team's best offensive option, leading the team with 1,127 yards on 214 carries with eight touchdowns.

"I would definitely say there's disappointment and frustration," Franklin said. "It takes a whole year to train to be a great football team. We are working 10-11 months a year and we have high hopes. But when you finish less than you hoped, it puts a chip on your shoulder."

Franklin said it has made him hungrier, left him working harder to change the fortunes of the entire program.

"I feel like we haven't come close to our potential yet," Franklin said. "If we play our game, I think we can be one of the best teams in the country. I want the ball in my hands. I want to be a playmaker. We need playmakers."

Franklin said his game has improved even more since last year's breakout season. He said he has a better understanding of the UCLA offense and a better grasp of the opponent's defensive scheme.

"I've improved my footwork, my hips are strong, my vision up the field is better," Franklin said. "I'm trying to be an all-around better player."

And he's established himself as a leader.

"He was a pretty good player last year and he's worked hard on his receiving and his pass blocking and we've seen improvement in both of those areas," said UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel. "What's been fun for me, as a head coach, is to watch his development as a leader, his ability to be vocal and get guys to understand how important this is to him and the rest of the upperclassmen."

Franklin was on the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker and Maxwell Awards. He was the Bruins' offensive MVP last season, setting a sophomore record for rushing yards.

Early in the season, Franklin is averaging 104.5 yards a game.

As a local talent, Franklin said he has felt the pressure of playing in front of family and friends, representing his community and being an example to other Southern California athletes who might want to stay close to home and play.

"It definitely pushes me to be a role model, to represent in my community to the guys who didn't make it or the guys who are doubting themselves," Franklin said. "But it's a blessing that my friends and family can come watch me play or see me on TV all the time. I'm a walking testimony."

Franklin said other athletes from the L.A. area have come to him for advice.

"And I always maintain that I am where I am because of hard work,," Franklin said.

Franklin said he gets to spend less time with his family than many might assume. He joked that he feels like an out-of-state student at times.

But the work and the time are the things that can change everything at UCLA.

"I literally dream every night about going to the Rose Bowl, about the jets flying across the sky before the game," Franklin said. "I work all year, not going home, not going out. I am really committed to being the best.

"This is my life. Depending on how practice goes, depends on my how days goes. I just have a passion for it and it means so much to me."

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