Jarrett Franklin may be a relative unknown for most University of Buffalo football fans, but not for long.
The sophomore linebacker will likely step into a starting role this year to replace Khalil Mack.
While replacing the production of one of the best players in school history isn’t likely, Franklin and Mack do have some similarities.
Mack, who was taken fifth overall in the most recent NFL Draft, was famously only offered one Division I scholarship coming out of high school.
Franklin also received only one Division I offer amid a litany of schools showing vague interest.
“These are the first coaches that approached me,” Franklin said. “A lot of the colleges were talking to me but this one gave me an offer. I felt like they wanted me here so I accepted and it was the greatest decision I’ve made.”
Franklin hails from Francis Howell High School in St. Charles, Mo., where he was a state wrestling champion his senior year.
Because the 6-foot-1 Franklin had to stay in his 182-pound weight class throughout his wrestling career, he was relatively small coming out of high school.
He showed up for his freshman year at 189 pounds, but with the will to gain as much muscle as possible. He’s now up to 218 and counting.
“With my metabolism, I lose weight easily,” Franklin said. “I’m trying to gain weight but realistically I’ll probably stay around 218 until the end of camp.
“It was hard for me to put on weight. Now that we’re working in the summer and winter, I just have to keep eating constantly. It was a tough transition from wrestling to football.”
Franklin’s freshman year coincided with one of the most successful years in program history.
The Bulls won eight games, including seven by at least 20 points. Because of the lopsided nature of the victories, Franklin got more of an opportunity than many backups would have.
“He played well over 200 snaps last year,” head coach Jeff Quinn said. “So he got his opportunity to play and learn from one of the greatest players to ever play here.”
But Franklin’s freshman experience provided more than just playing time. The converted defensive end was able to learn the basics of the linebacker position from Mack, whom the coaching staff selected as Franklin’s roommate for road trips.
Those trips served as tutoring sessions for Franklin.
“He taught me lessons that I’ll never forget,” Franklin said. “He’s a great linebacker and he tries to teach you from the ground up. When I came in, I knew nothing about linebacker because I played defensive end. Khalil taught me a lot of things that I wouldn’t have been able to learn from anyone else.”
It wasn’t just Mack who Franklin was able to learn from. Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Lou Tepper has authored multiple books on the linebacker position.
Franklin is taking full advantage of all the resources available to him in trying to learn the position.
“My parents bought me the first edition of the book and I read it from front to back,” Franklin said. “It was a great read. (Playing for him) is an amazing experience. It’s going from not playing linebacker at all to playing college football linebacker. That’s a big transition and I used as many resources as I can.”
Franklin’s journey from defensive end to linebacker has been smooth, but one he still has trouble believing.
“It was the best experience ever when I first when out on a college field,” he said. “I can’t even explain in words how amazing it felt. I would sit at home and watch NCAA football and now I’m on the screen for my friends back home to watch.”