Editor’s note: Every day, from now until Penn State football’s Class of 2017 reports to campus June 24, we’ll highlight a different one of the Nittany Lions’ 17 incoming signees. Today is Day 14 of the 17-day series.
Former Battlefield (Va.) coach Jared Van Acker can still remember meeting Brailyn Franklin for the first time — because, in a matter of months, Van Acker realized “he’s by far the best athlete I’ve ever coached in my 10 years.”
Franklin, an incoming Penn State freshman, would go on to play just about every position on the football field — quarterback to defensive tackle, running back to cornerback, wide receiver to linebacker — and he never failed to find a new way to surprise Van Acker. The first time they met, with the lanky Franklin clad in a T-shirt and shorts in the high school gym, Van Acker acknowledged he was a little awestruck.
“The first time I shook his hand, he had a paw,” the coach said with a laugh. “Those things were huge. So he passed the eyeball test. I was like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to see this guy on the field.’”
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Franklin, a projected outside linebacker at the next level, didn’t fail to impress.
A week after that first meeting, Van Acker looked on as the high school transfer from Texas sprinted on the practice field while competing in 7-on-7s. It looked as if the ball became glued to those paws during every passing route. Not only would he make a one-handed touchdown grab but then, on the other end of the field, he’d shut down Battlefield’s top receiver. He glided effortlessly on the gridiron and, in the weight room, everything seemed to come natural.
Franklin was even better than Van Acker’s first impression indicated.
“He would just not get tired,” Van Acker said. “He would run for days, and he would be sprinting the whole time and that kind of stuff. He’s just got some intangibles you can’t coach.”
Franklin was a Jabrill Peppers without the hype, a versatile player who tried his hand at virtually every position outside of the offensive line. He started out as a quarterback, but the coaching staff agreed the team’s signal-caller couldn’t play defense. And Franklin needed to be in the game at all times. Eventually, they settled on cornerback and wide receiver/running back — but, due to injuries, that didn’t stick.
The defensive line was thin so, they figured, why not plug the 204-pound player in at nose tackle? He was one of the bigger kids on the team, and what did they have to lose? In the end, the only thing opposing offenses ended up losing — sleep.
“I kind of call him a ‘disrupter,’” Hylton coach Tony Lilly said. “They played him out of position on the defensive side of the ball for the most part. ... He’s clearly a linebacker, but he was such a fast, fast kid and strong that he just really — he disrupted our offense at all times.”
The yes-sir, no-sir athlete relished in hitting. In the final seven games of his junior season at defensive tackle, he came up with 17 sacks. As a senior, he finished with 29 tackles for loss. Sometimes, he’d leap over the center and tackle the quarterback before he even completed a three-step drop. “In one game, the center was so nervous (Franklin) was there, he’d snap the ball over the quarterback’s head,” Van Acker remembered. Other times, the player fast enough to be a burner at receiver would chase down the pocket passer as if it was a cornerback blitz from the middle of the field.
“He’s very intimidating because he’s fast, but he’s strong too,” Van Acker added. “He’s just like a big cat.”
Against Osbourn, Battlefield’s coach can still remember the frustration painted on the opposing team’s face. Franklin had seven or eight sacks; they couldn’t stop him. And that happened to be a recurring theme throughout Franklin’s high school career. Against Hayfield in the playoffs, Franklin’s opponents used a double-team on the line and then kept a running back in for pass protection — and Franklin still collected several backfield stops and a few batted-down passes. Against a heavily favored Lake Braddock, Franklin helped shut the offense down as his team came up just short in a 13-10 loss.
“They had 300-pound kids on the line, and he’s throwing them back and slamming the quarterback,” said Chris Ferrill, Franklin’s friend and high school teammate.
Another opposing coach, Patriot’s Brud Bicknell, said Franklin possessed similar athleticism and versatility to area stars Da’Shawn Hand and Ahmad Brooks, two consensus five-star recruits from 2014 and 2001, respectively. (Recruiting expert Tom Lemming once compared Brooks in high school to LaVar Arrington, and Rivals ranked Hand as the nation’s top overall high school prospect.)
“He’s in that rare group,” Bicknell said, referring to the trio’s ability in high school before discussing Franklin’s potential in college. “I think a big part of it is going to be just what he can do size-wise to make sure that he can be a Big Ten player.”
At 6-foot-1 and 204 pounds, he’s 16 pounds lighter than the Nittany Lions’ average linebacker. But there’s time to grow — and Franklin’s high school coach was quick to reiterate his star pupil’s versatility and the fact he doesn’t mind doing what’s best for the team.
As Franklin attended camps and wowed colleges between his junior and senior seasons, he often heard whispers of how colleges wanted to see him at linebacker. After all, there just isn’t a recruiting market for 200-pound defensive tackles. So Franklin turned to his coach one day and asked, “What do you think about me playing linebacker my senior season?” Van Acker told him that was an option — but it would be best for the team if he stayed at nose guard.
So Franklin stayed at nose guard. He never asked again. The soft-spoken Texan — who once sported a weighted vest to make practice even harder — didn’t need more scholarship offers. He didn’t need more recruiting attention. And he felt he didn’t need to attend different showcases and recruiting camps separate from certain schools.
He wanted schools to take him as he was. And Penn State was only too happy to oblige.
“He’s just a phenomenal athlete,” Bicknell said. “It’s going to be really exciting to see what he can do to his physical stature and just how much bigger he can get.”
Said Van Acker: “If he puts his mind to it and he works hard in the weight room and goes out on the field and shows up every day, he can be a future first-round draft pick.”
Overview of Brailyn Franklin
Hometown/high school: Arlington, Texas/Battlefield (Va.)
Height/weight: 6-foot-1/204 pounds
Recruit rankings: 3 stars (247, ESPN, Rivals, Scout)
Other scholarship offers: Kansas, Maryland, Purdue, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech
High school coach (Jared Van Acker) says: “Brailyn is one of the most athletic football players I have ever coached. His versatility was evident as he played almost every position on the football field for the Bobcats — he played quarterback, running back, wide receiver, nose guard, outside linebacker, corner and as a return specialist.”