Sophomore maturing at ‘marquee’ position in college football

Sam Franklin Jr. has 23 tackles and three pass breakups at the strong-side linebacker spot.

Sophomore linebacker Sam Franklin runs downfield during Temple’s home loss to Houston on Sept. 30. | SYDNEY SCHAEFER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Samuel Franklin Sr. didn’t want his son to graduate college before he did. Franklin didn’t want him to “rub it in [his] face.”

He won’t have to worry about any bragging. Franklin will earn an associate’s degree in applied electronics technology in heating, ventilation and air conditioning from Southern Technical College in Auburndale, Florida next month.

“Not too many” from his home in Crystal River, Florida, a town of about 3,000 people near the Gulf of Mexico, go to a major university, Franklin said. His son is an exception.

Sophomore linebacker Samuel Franklin Jr., who goes by “Sam,” has 23 tackles, two sacks and three pass breakups for Temple (3-3, 1-2 American Athletic Conference). After playing mostly on special teams last season, Sam Franklin has started three games.

He plays the “Sam” or strong-side linebacker spot, “one of the most difficult” and “marquee” positions in college football, coach Geoff Collins said. Sam Franklin has to fit gaps in run defense, and he often plays nickel back and covers receivers deep downfield.

“Right now, I feel pretty comfortable [in coverage],” Sam Franklin said. “But next year, I want to work on some things. … I feel good, but I don’t feel like where I need to be at. I’m not at Artrel Foster level yet as I would say.”

Foster, a redshirt-senior cornerback, lives with Franklin, redshirt-sophomore defensive lineman Dana Levine and redshirt-sophomore defensive back Kareem Ali in the Diamond Green Apartments at 10th and Diamond streets.

Foster wears No. 8, a single-digit number that signifies he is one of the team’s toughest players. Sam Franklin said he tries to pick up on Foster’s habits, like how he does extra stretches and workout sessions to improve.

During the preseason, when junior running back Ryquell Armstead — who wears No. 7 — mentioned players who could possibly succeed former quarterback Phillip Walker as No. 8’s bearer, he mentioned Sam Franklin.

“Sophomore, junior, senior, you know, it really doesn’t matter,” Armstead said. “It’s about who competes at a high level, who’s very respectful and who the coaches trust.”

Sam Franklin’s past experience as a defensive back helps him in his “Sam” linebacker role, he said. He signed an offer to play for the University of Massachusetts starting in Fall 2015, but he had to play a postgraduate year at East Coast Prep in Great Barrington, Massachusetts to improve his grades. He committed to Temple in February 2016.

At East Coast Prep, the offensive and defensive coaches had a “tug of war” over where to use Sam Franklin because of his athleticism, coach Dick Bell said. He played cornerback, linebacker, safety and wide receiver. He recorded 13.5 tackles in one game and had an 81-yard touchdown catch in another.

“He’s definitely a lot faster than a typical linebacker should be and definitely more athletic,” redshirt-freshman linebacker Isaiah Graham-Mobley said. “So sticking on the slot receivers, bigger receivers, faster receivers, so he definitely has a wide range of attributes to his game.”

Bell said he had to work on Sam Franklin’s discipline during his time at East Coast Prep and he’d sometimes be too aggressive. Collins noticed it shortly after he arrived at Temple in December and watched the team practice for the Military Bowl. He often played running back on the scout team and would sometimes “lose his composure,” Collins said.

Sam Franklin committed a personal foul for a verbal confrontation with officials in the Owls’ 43-7 loss against South Florida on Sept. 21. He knew he made a mistake that he had to fix.

After the game, like Sam Franklin usually does, he talked with his dad on the phone and told him he wanted to find a way to apologize. His dad suggested he write an email or a letter, and he took his advice.

Sam Franklin handwrote a letter and brought it with him to Edberg-Olson Hall on Sept. 24 for Collins to send to the officials involved. They’d never seen a player do that before, Collins said the officials told him.

“I thought I needed to apologize too because I was stepping out of line as a player, and that’s not something you do, especially on the field, no matter if the game is going your way or not,” Sam Franklin said.

“I just make sure he’s going to be a man at the end of all that football,” his dad said.

Sam Franklin has matured significantly during Collins’ tenure, he said.

“He’s very coachable,” Collins said. “He wants to be great. He understands the package, but there’s a lot of things that can happen to him that sometimes are first-time things. But once he gets it, he’s going to be a great player.”

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