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Archdeacon: Around the world to Central State Hall of Fame

Jeff Franklin won a gold medal with the U.S. National team at the International Federation of American Football World Championships in Austria. CONTRIBUTED
Jeff Franklin won a gold medal with the U.S. National team at the International Federation of American Football World Championships in Austria. CONTRIBUTED

He said he came to Central State for “a change of scenery…a new experience…a chance to grow.”

Here’s how that worked out for Jeff Franklin:

—-He came out of Hubbard High School in the West Lawn section of Chicago at 5-foot-9 and said only three colleges showed interest in him as a quarterback.

One was Central State and after a switch to defense he’s gone on to a career that’s taken him around the world as a player and a coach – from Austria to Brazil to Italy – has won a gold medal with the U.S. National team, a pair of professional indoor titles with a Cincinnati team and then advanced into a coaching career that now has him in his third season at Wabash College in Indiana.

—-He went from being in tears and feeling “betrayed” early in his second year at CSU to now, with the events of this coming weekend, feeling “honored…humbled…excited” and “really appreciative.”

—-When he initially committed to CSU, the school didn’t even have a football team – the program had been disbanded for eight seasons due to financial reasons – and his first year on campus the team only practiced, but played no games.

After that he became a three-time all-conference player, led the nation in interceptions as a senior, became an NCAA Division II, first-team All American and, as of Friday, a member of Central State’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

Joining him in the 2019 induction class are:

•Charles Hope, an offensive lineman who was a two-time Sheridan Black College All American and part of the Marauders’ 1990 NAIA national championship football team.

•Arthur Hunter, a defensive back who played in the late 1980s and went on to a pro career.

•Josh Ruga, a two-time NCAA Small College All American and part of CSU’s 1960 national champion cross country team.

•Audrea Sterling, a 400-meter runner, who became a seven-time All American and part of five national title teams at CSU.

Also honored will be the 1994 men’s and women’s track and field teams, each of whom were national champions.

The new inductees will be honored Friday at a luncheon at Country Club of the North. Joetta Clark, a four-time U.S. Olympian who ran the 800 and 1,500 meters, will be the keynote speaker.

Saturday the new Hall of Famers will be introduced at halftime of the Marauders homecoming game against Fort Valley State at McPherson Stadium.

As for his roller-coaster CSU experience, Franklin said: “I would’t change a thing.”

That’s not saying it was always easy though. While at CSU, he worked with three head coaches. Theo Lemon helped relaunch the program, then Al West took over and in Franklin’s final year – when he helped out as an assistant coach – E. J. Junior ran the program.

Franklin credits the late Henderson Mosley, the Marauders’ Hall of Fame quarterback of the 1990s and a CSU assistant coach, with convincing him to come to CSU:

“Coach Mo played a huge part in getting me to understand that I could come to Central State and be part of a dream, an opportunity, a chance to help make history at the school again.”

Franklin laughed as he remembered his first year at CSU: “It was a pretty unique situation. We just practiced for eight weeks. Our homecoming game was an intra-squad scrimmage between Maroon and Gold teams.

“We looked at it as a redshirt year for all of us so we could get our bodies right and become a little bigger, stronger and faster as we learned the system.”

During those early practices he played quarterback, but the following year as the Marauders prepared to play a limited schedule, he was switched to a defensive back.

“No, I was not OK with that and I reacted negatively,” he admitted. “I felt betrayed. I was really unhappy and struggling and just not in a good place. I tried to hide it, but there were times were I got emotional and cried a lot.”

Jeff Franklin led the nation in interceptions for Central State in 2009. CONTRIBUTED
Jeff Franklin led the nation in interceptions for Central State in 2009. CONTRIBUTED

He contemplated leaving and maybe trying to go to another school in a package deal with his high school brother who was four-star recruit.

Some of the CSU coaches mentored him, saying if he did hope for a future in football after CSU, it would be as a defensive player, not a 5-foot-9 quarterback.

His biggest supporters, though, were his teammates:

“They kind of saved me,” he said. “They reeled me back in.”

Before that first season of games, they voted him to be a team captain, a position he held all four years at CSU.

“At the time I was a struggling 19-year-old kid, but the older guys on the team – guys who were 22 and 23 and grown men – felt that high on me that they made me a captain,” he said.

“That was huge to me and after that I never looked back.”

Embracing an HBCU

He said his elementary and high schools were predominately white and he was open to experiencing an HBCU (Historically Black College & University.)

His father – Jeff Bryant – had played football at Langston University, an HBCU in Oklahoma.

And he said his mom – Ingrid Franklin – especially had exposed him to the HBCU experience from the time he was 5 or 6:

“Every year we’d go to the Chicago Classic and see the teams and hear the bands and take in the whole thing.

“And I began to learn about a lot of different NFL greats who went to HBCU’s – guys like Walter Payton and Jerry Rice.”

When he got to CSU, he said he immersed himself in the campus: “I was in athletics, but I also took part in a lot of clubs and organizations.”

He won all-academic honors three times and senior year he was named Mr. Central State.

After playing four years, he stayed another season and helped coach. He did the same with Wright State’s club team.

He played two seasons with the Cincinnati Commandos – who went 23-1 and won two straight Continental Indoor Football League titles with him – and helped lead the U.S National team to a gold medal (beating Mexico, Germany, Australia and then Canada in the title game) in the International Federation of American Football World d Championship in Austria.

Next came six-month playing and coaching stints with fledgling pro teams in Brazil and Italy. Once back in the States, he coached at the Bridgton Academy in Maine and then at Holy Cross.

This is his third season coaching defensive backs at Wabash. In fact, the Little Giants have a game Saturday, so he’ll make it to the enshrinement festivities on Friday, but then drive early Saturday morning to the College of Wooster for his team’s 1 p.m. game.

His former teammates, Daniel Stover, a receiver from Washington D.C, and Jovan Potter a lineman from Wayne High School, will represent him Saturday.

‘Everything happens for a reason’

“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” Franklin said. “Without all he steps I’ve taken I wouldn’t be who I am today. I got forced into learning and playing defense and the coaches were right. I went on and played because of my defense and now I coach defense for a living.”

So is the quarterback in him long gone?

He smiled and started to laugh: “Oh no, there’s still a quarterback in there and every now and then it comes out of retirement. Usually it’s in practice when I’m throwing against my defensive backs. That’s when I get a chance to live the dream and maybe even talk a little trash.

“And then some of the younger guys will go. ‘Hey coach? Did you used to play quarterback or something?’

“And I just start to laugh and say, ‘Yeah, a little bit.’

“It’s like a lot of things in my life. They’ve come full circle.”