BALTIMORE – The Morgan State University football team had a bye last weekend, and the timing of the break could not have been better. After all, the Bears have dropped their first four games of the season and have been outscored 150-17 in the process.
A big reason things haven’t been worse is the play of defensive lineman Jai Franklin, who played on Dr. Henry A. Wise, Jr. High School's state championship team five years ago.
Franklin has also done something only one other Morgan State player has done this year – score a touchdown. In the 49-17 loss to North Carolina A&T in Baltimore two weeks ago, a fumble from a sack popped up into the air and into the hands of Franklin, who ran it back 41 yards for a touchdown.
Franklin, in his last year with the Bears, said he’s having a good time despite frustration with the team’s woes. He was a second-team All-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference pick last season and is viewed as one of the top linemen this year.
Even though the Bears are struggling, Franklin is trying to savor his final college season.
“I’m enjoying the game now moreso in a different way,” he said. “I appreciate the little things, like being around my teammates, talking about life. When I was younger, first playing in college, I just enjoyed playing football. I see the bigger picture now.”
The 6-foot-3, 280-pound redshirt senior said he is proud to have graduated from Morgan State last spring. He is now taking graduate courses and would like to obtain a graduate degree, but isn’t sure in what field. Franklin said he would like to work in the sports industry, maybe in media relations for a college athletics department, but the 22-year-old Clinton resident is still trying to find his path.
Franklin truly had to work to earn his undergrad degree at Morgan State’s 150th graduation last spring. He needed to take 18 credits during one semester to get it all done, but said just making his mom and family proud of his accomplishment meant so much.
“That was like the biggest lift off my shoulders, ever,” Franklin said.
Franklin began his college career at Old Dominion. He redshirted there in 2013 and played some in 2014 before asking to transfer. The lineman told his coaches he felt he needed a fresh start, and they agreed to let him go.
Then, Franklin turned to Wise Head Coach DaLawn Parrish for some guidance. Parrish immediately called the coaches at Morgan State, and the program offered him a scholarship the next day – something that reduced a lot of worry for Franklin.
“I was just thankful that I found a home, and I didn’t have to look for a home,” Franklin said. “Honestly, I adjusted pretty quickly.”
He has made a name for himself at Morgan State and has improved to the point where he can play both the run and the pass. Franklin is listed as a defensive lineman, but is playing on the end due to injuries. Now, he is just hoping everything comes together for Morgan State.
The biggest thing will be getting the offense back on track. Scoring some points after not putting any on the board in the first three-and-a-half games should take pressure off the offense and help the unit do better.
“Anytime you can find a way to score, especially when we haven’t scored in the first three games, it’s a positive,” said Morgan State Head Coach Fred Farrier.
Farrier and Franklin both said it is just a matter of getting all the units to come together. If they can do that, hopefully they will get on a winning path. That is something Franklin knows about from his high school days at Wise.
He transferred to Wise from Oxon Hill as a sophomore, made the varsity squad in 10th grade, became a starter early that season and never looked back. Franklin played on the defensive line full-time and even saw time on the offensive line for two years – starting both ways as a junior and a senior.
Franklin then ended his high school career with a bang, going out as a Class 4A state champion when the Pumas captured the title.
“It was the biggest relief,” Franklin said. “We knew we had it in us. We just had to put it together. When we finally won it my senior year, it felt like the weight was lifted off of us.”
Now, Franklin would like to find similar success in his final half-season with the Bears.