Meet Stephen Franklin, inside linebacker from Southern Illinois (SIU).
Currently ranked the 30th overall inside linebacker by Scout Inc.’s draft board on ESPN.com, Franklin is hoping to shed the Division 1AA label and prove that he can be an NFL-caliber player.
Franklin is a 6’0”, 237lb player who runs the 40 in approximately 4.5 seconds, impressive speed for a linebacker. This speed, along with agility and quickness, makes his athleticism the most impressive facet of his game. “Athleticism is my biggest thing,” Franklin said. “It allows me to be able to put myself in position to make plays by breaking blocks and closing space down in a hurry.” Despite being a big fan of NFL linebackers like Jon Beason and Patrick Willis, Franklin says that the tenacity and athleticism of Bart Scott most reminds him of the way he plays.
Even with his outstanding athleticism, Franklin sometimes struggles because he has a tendency to over-think things while reading and reacting to plays as they unfold. “I think too much and don’t always trust my instincts,” he said. “Sometimes I try to sit back and dissect things instead of just playing.” That may be a speed bump due to the speed of the NFL, but nothing that Franklin can’t overcome.
Franklin has been very durable during his football career at SIU. “I had a minor ankle injury,” he said. “I missed some practice but didn’t miss any game time.” It’s safe to say that injuries will not be a concern when NFL coaches consider his position on their draft boards. With no injuries to speak of, he shouldn’t have too much trouble showing up at pre-draft workouts and making his name known. “I want to prove my athleticism at the testing dates and test well in the positional workouts as well as weight lifting,” he said.
Since joining SIU in 2007, Franklin has compiled some impressive stats. After tallying 16 tackles in his freshman year, he took over the starting middle linebacker spot and made his presence felt. Throughout his four years with the Salukis, he racked up 174 tackles, 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception. During his senior season, he led SIU’s defense with 76 tackles. He had plenty of special teams experience during his first year at SIU, so finding somewhere to contribute on an NFL team shouldn’t be an issue in his first couple of years in the league as his coaches continue to unlock his potential.
One of the things that Franklin is most thankful for during his time at SIU is the competition between him and his teammates since his first year. “When I first came in, I was a little overconfident,” he admitted. “Eventually, it showed me that I needed to work hard to earn my position. Nothing was ever handed to me and it helped me adopt a hard-hat mentality.” That hard-hat mentality and knowing that he has to work for everything will help give him the proper mindset when trying to earn a spot on an NFL roster.
During his time at SIU, Franklin had plenty of memorable moments that helped mold him into the outstanding player that he is today. One big moment for him was when SIU beat Division 1 Northern Illinois during his freshman year. When I asked him to talk about his most memorable moment, he immediately said, “going to Northern Illinois and having a comeback victory. I was a big part of the onside recovery that led to the game winning score.” He also cited his team’s big overtime win over rival Northern Iowa on the road as one of his biggest moments as a Saluki.
The thing he’ll miss the most when he leaves SIU is his teammates. “I’m gonna miss my boys,” he exclaimed. “Lots of my friends redshirted so they’ll be staying one more year, but I’m looking forward to building new friendships.” That last statement helps give you an idea of just the type of character that Franklin possesses. He is all about the love of the game and being a great teammate. “I play football because I love to play,” he said. “There won’t be any off-the-field issues and I won’t let my brothers down.” In a league that has seen an increase in players with character concerns, Franklins’ approach towards playing football is a breath of fresh air.
Even though he comes from a Division 1AA team, he doesn’t see the transition from the NFL as too much of a challenge. “I was able to make the transition quickly from high school to college and am diligent with studying my playbook,” said Franklin. “Being able to pick up the speed of the game will be tough, but things will get slower and easier when you start to learn.”
If anything, Franklin deserves his shot at the NFL solely on passion and tenacity. “I just need a shot. I’m excited for it and I’m going to be prepared,” he said. “All I want is to get an invite to camp and prove that I belong out there on the field.” Keep your eyes open for Franklin flying all over the field on Sundays next season.