By Jeff Shearer
AUBURN, Ala. - John Franklin III spent time on two stages Saturday: Auburn University’s Commencement where he received his degree in public administration, and before practice, when coach Gus Malzahn praised Franklin in front of his teammates.
“I got him up before the team,” Malzahn said, “I was talking about him. He’s been through some ups and downs but hung in there. And it says a lot about him. He’s one of our leaders. He’s trying to do everything he can to help the team. Not just receiver but special teams. I’m really proud of John.”
“That’s big from your head coach,” Franklin said. “We’re about to go out to practice, and he wanted to congratulate guys for graduating first. For me, that’s a big thing because he really cares about us off the field as much as he does on the field.
“We go through so much and for him just to take that time out and separate football from what we really came here for, to get a degree, that was kind of special. You could tell it meant a lot to him for us to graduate. That’s one thing nobody can ever take away from you.”
Franklin and defensive back Jason Smith both graduated Saturday before taking part in Auburn’s fifth preseason practice, the Tigers first in full pads.
“Very big deal for them,” Malzahn said.
After playing quarterback last season, Franklin switched to receiver during spring practice.
“We’re just trying to figure out the best position to utilize his speed,” Malzahn said. “He’s one of the fastest guys in college football. Just trying to find positions to utilize his strengths.”
Franklin earned a large fan following - nearly 60 thousand Twitter followers - thanks to his role on the Netflix series Last Chance U, which chronicles the football program at East Mississippi Community College.
“Every day my Instagram DMs stay on 99 plus,” Franklin said. “At first, I was like, ‘It’s cool to be on Netflix.’ Going on a mission trip and discovering some things by myself, I’m actually happy that I’m on it because I get so much feedback from people from Germany, Greece, all over the world saying, ‘You’re a true inspiration. You’re the reason I keep going.’
“For me, that’s the biggest thing. Helping somebody else out through my story. If my story can do that, I feel really good about it.
“When I’m done playing, I want to go back home and open a training facility and train from 4 years old to high school,” said Franklin, who hopes to tap into his network to enlist trainers from multiple sports. “I want to do it back home, because I feel like that’s where a lot of the best athletes are, back home in south Florida.”
Like Franklin, Smith is a converted quarterback trying to carve out a role in a new position in his senior season, perhaps on special teams.
“We’re challenging him and so far, he’s rising to the occasion,” Malzahn said.
“I think I’ll have a pretty good role on special teams,” said Smith, who is pursuing a master’s in adult education. “I wouldn’t mind if special teams took me to where I wanted to go. I’m going to go hard in everything I do, just like with school. You’ve got to attack the day. That’s what coach preaches. Not just football, off the field, too.”
The Tigers will take Sunday off before conducting their first scrimmage Monday.
“That’s when we’ll really be able to evaluate at the highest level, all positions, once we get out to that stadium,” said Malzahn. “From a coaches’ standpoint, we go in that stadium and it’s a scrimmage, it means more.”
— Jeff Shearer (@jeff_shearer) August 6, 2017
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: Follow @jeff_shearer