Franklin Shines, Thanks to Jesus and Janitor

Franklin (James Snook - USA Today Sports)

With exactly one month until the start of the draft, we kick off a series introducing you to the players you need to know. Leading off is UCLA's remarkably versatile running back Johnathan Franklin, who found an unusual catalyst to jump-start a big senior season.

Johnathan Franklin's monster senior season made him one of the top running back prospects in this draft.

Franklin could thank any number of people. He could thank his mom. He could thank Jim Mora and the new coaching staff for putting him in position to succeed. Heck, he could even thank Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, with whom he interned.

Instead, Franklin thanks ... a janitor?

"My commitment to God allowed me to work harder and want to be better," Franklin told Packer Report and a couple other reporters at the Scouting Combine last month. "Last summer, I accepted Christ in my life and my life just totally changed. It's amazing, when I did that, the kind of people that came into my life and pushed me to be great, both on the field and off the field."

And just who gave him that push last summer?

"The reason I found him was a janitor on campus that led me to accepting Christ," Franklin said. "Guys on my team, who I really never thought I'd talk to or have a relationship with, came into my life and pushed me to maximize my potential."

It's an unlikely story. The paths of Franklin and the janitor, Keenan Riggs, crossed regularly outside the university's credit union.

"He knew me because I was a football player on campus," Franklin said. "He would always call me, ‘Frankie.' He'd say, ‘Hey, Frankie.' One day, he asked me for my number. I don't know why I gave a janitor my number but I gave it to him."

Not only did he give Riggs his phone number but he answered the phone. And he talked. And eventually, they met.

"He said, ‘I know you've got the Holy Spirit in you because if you didn't, you wouldn't understand what I was saying,'" Franklin recalled. "He started talking about Him and I was actually interested. After three times, he invited me to Bible study. The pastor that night was talking about the world and how people try to look toward things to satisfy them like fame and football or money or girls or partying. He told me, ‘The only thing that would really satisfy you is Jesus Christ and the only thing that will give you peace is Jesus.' I accepted Christ that day and my life has been different ever since — the way I carry myself, the things that I say, how I control my thoughts, how much I want to work. This whole season has reflected what God can do."

Franklin rushed for 1,127 yards as a sophomore and 976 as a junior. With a janitor and Jesus on his side as a senior, he was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, which goes to the nation's top back, and a second-team All-American. He set single-season and career school records for rushing and all-purpose yards, finishing with 1,734 rushing yards as a senior and 4,403 rushing yards for his career. He added 33 receptions for 323 yards as a senior — dwarfing his three-year totals of 25 receptions for 194 yards.

He made the biggest strides in holding onto the football. As a junior, he coughed it up seven times — resulting in six turnovers and plenty of time on the bench — and his three-year total was a whopping 18. As a senior, he fumbled just once. There was no Divine intervention involved, however. Rather, he carried the football everywhere he went, from going to class to going to bed.

"Just random people would come up and try to hit my ball. Guys would try to rip it out, day in and day out," Franklin said. "I did ball drills before every practice. I went back and I watched film and looked at all the times I fumbled and what caused myself to fumble and why was I fumbling and when did I fumble the most. I told myself I'm not going to be that guy anymore. I took it everywhere I went. I slept with it. I did everything with it. It was like my wife."

With a diverse skill-set and excellent leadership qualities, Franklin is perhaps the most complete back in the draft. If Alabama's Eddie Lacy is the No. 1 back in the draft, Franklin might be the second back off the board, depending on what a team is looking for. He showed he could pass protect at the Senior Bowl. He ran a 4.49 at the Scouting Combine. At 5-foot-10 and 209 pounds, he's not the biggest or strongest back in the draft, but he entered the bowl game ranked second in the nation in yards after contact, according to ESPN.

"It's all about heart," he said of moving the pile. "Running backs come in all sizes and shapes. It's not how big you are or how tall you are. It's about how big your heart is."


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.

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