In 2013, Missouri’s second season as a member of the SEC East, quarterback James Franklin threw for almost 2,500 yards, rushed for 510 and accounted for a total of 25 touchdowns. It was a good enough performance to lead Mizzou to the SEC Championship game against a juggernaut Auburn team, with the winner essentially booking a trip to play in the National Championship game.
Franklin threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for another, to no avail. Auburn ran away with the game 59-42, and Mizzou was relegated to the Cotton Bowl. But it was a huge moment, since many doubted Missouri would be able to compete in the SEC after they jumped ship from the Big 12. And yet, for Franklin, that moment was nothing more than, as he puts it, “something to talk about.”
“The only time that Auburn game crosses my mind is when guys get into it in the locker room about whose college team was better,” Franklin said. “But I try not to think about it too much.”
The locker room he’s referring to is that of the Edmonton Eskimos, the Canadian Football League team for which Franklin now plays . After going undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft, Franklin briefly signed with the Detroit Lions before being cut. He was curious about the CFL, and that’s where he ended up. It’s a long way from Columbia, Missouri, both in miles and in stature, but for one of the hundreds of NFL prospects who go undrafted, it’s home. We caught up with the former SEC East champ to talk about life after college.
STACK: What did you know about the CFL? How did you end up in Canada?
James Franklin: I thought it was more like European football. I thought I would never play. But going through playing with the Detroit Lions and the pre-season, I got released and was still was pursuing the NFL. So instead of waiting around, I thought I’d try and go and get on a team in the CFL.
I got to talk to Archie Manning about it when I met him a few years ago. He said it’s a great league and it’s a great opportunity. I started looking at tryouts for different teams. I tried out for Winnipeg and I tried out for the Eskimos and the Stampeders. I did pretty good at the workout for the Eskimos, but afterwards, I thought there’s no way I’m making the team. Coach Jones didn’t really like me, there’s no way. Then I get a call from him inviting me to come to training camp in Florida. A week after that, they offered me a contract, and I was pumped.
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What’s the biggest difference in terms of how the game is played?
Having the extra guy out there, it’s kind of fun. The field is bigger, which I like, and it’s a pass-heavy league, which I like. I like throwing the ball and developing in that area. It seems like you have 100 yards [in the end zone]. You have 20 yards, but the goalposts are in the front, so you have a ton of room to work with in the end zone. Sometimes I would catch myself going. “Oh we have 12 [players on the field], that’s too many,” but that’s how many you’re supposed to have. But the whole transition, I like it a lot. It’s a lot better than I ever would have thought. I’m having a good time and will hopefully be able to do it for awhile.
You played in the shotgun a lot at Mizzou, running the spread offense. Is the Eskimos playbook much different?
It’s a little different. The thing that’s similar and that I really like is the speed of the game. We only have a 20-second play clock here, so it goes a lot faster. We did a lot of up-tempo stuff at Mizzou, so I really like that part of it, and I feel really comfortable. We’re in shotgun probably 90 percent of the time. The offensive scheme is a little bit different. You have the extra guy on the field. The concepts are kind of similar, but they have a few tweaks here and there because we have more guys and more options to throw to.
How does the week differ in the CFL?
Really being on your own. Which is nice. Get [to practice/games] however, find a ride, take the bus, make it work from there. Being a rookie, it’s kind of tough, having never been here, not knowing anything. That was the biggest adjustment, feeling like we’re on our own.
Let’s back up for a second. When you graduated from Mizzou, fresh off an 11-1 season and an SEC Championship appearance, was your goal to play in the NFL at all costs? Were you considering other options?
I definitely wanted to get drafted or picked up by a team. It was tough. I thought a lot about how I compared to a lot of other guys. There was a lot of frustration, getting injured and [teams] not giving me a chance. I just wanted to prove that I could play at the highest level. I definitely wanted to get on a team and get drafted. It was a disappointment.
I got picked up by the Lions and it was exciting, but then come to find out toward the last couple days I was really just there to be an extra body. That kind of stinks. Then I found out about politics and all that. I just wanted to play and have an opportunity to play quarterback and be successful. Then I started to look at other leagues. I was going to give the CFL a shot. If I wouldn’t have gotten picked up last year, I would’ve stopped playing football.
What was your backup plan?
Public speaking. Anything that has to do with interacting with people in public, preferably in a speaker-type role. Also medical sales was something a lot of people contacted me about.
Does that SEC Championship game still pass through your mind?
Not really. The only time that Auburn game crosses my mind is when guys get into it in the locker room about whose college team was better. Like, “if Mizzou had won that game we would have been in the national championship!” But I try not to think about it too much. I look back, I got to be a part of a lot great experiences. But I never really say, “Wow, look at what we did.” It’s more of a memory and something to talk about.
Is a return to the NFL still on your mind? Or are you comfortable playing for the Eskimos for the foreseeable future?
Right now I’m leaning more towards the CFL and staying here and seeing where this goes. I’d like to go back [to the NFL] and prove that I can play quarterback and things like that, but I don’t want to get in the system, as far as going there to be a backup or a third-stringer or practice squad player for a couple years and be done. It would really have to be a perfect situation as far as being able to compete for either a starting spot or a backup and then have a chance to prove myself in the off-season.