Recruiting

3-star commit Franklin ramping up for Syracuse career

On Zaire Franklin’s first day at La Salle College High School training camp, he stood up on the benches in the locker room and announced his arrival.

Franklin had just transferred from Franklin Learning Center, a public school in the heart of North Philadelphia, and had never attended an independent prep school or spent much time — if any — in the suburbs.

But with his new football teammates all around him, Franklin treated the room full of perplexed players to an off-key rendition of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” with a dance to go along with it.

“Only a few people knew who he was and he just started singing,” said Andrew Carlone, then a junior offensive lineman. “We all thought he was just really cocky, or extremely social. Little did we know, most of us had just met one of our best friends.”

Nothing stops Franklin from being himself, and that’s just the way everyone around him likes it.

A three-star outside linebacker, according to Scout.com, Franklin is a member of SU’s 2014 recruiting class. The Philadelphia native is expected to bring strength, speed and intensity to a class already featuring two other linebackers in Parris Bennett and Colton Moskal. Though it’s the intangibles Franklin provides that have, and will continue to set him apart.

“I strive to be a complete player on and off the field,” Franklin said. “To me, leading is as important as playing.”

It’s hard to catch Franklin not smiling and engaging with his peers. He slowly walks through La Salle’s hallways, stopping to give individual attention to any familiar face.

But when a game nears, his transformation begins.

“I don’t think I’ve ever talked to him before a game,” Carlone said. “And that’s crazy, because we’ve played a ton of games together.”

It’s not something Franklin can explain. As competition looms, so does an alter ego that emits toughness and grit. He tucks away his smile, pauses his resounding personality and zones in.

Pregame he sits alone, puts his headphones in and starts to tape up sitting in front of his locker.

Just hours or even minutes ago he was acting like the mayor of a small school community. Teammates, teachers and students were hanging on his every word. Now he’s silent, seething and itching to get onto the field.

“I really can’t help what comes over me when I’m going to play football,” Franklin said. “I love people and I love to talk, but it’s just a natural disposition. When I get on the field, I hate everyone I’m going against.”

After finishing as state semifinalists in 2011, Franklin’s sophomore season, La Salle made it back to the AAAA state semifinals in 2012.

Facing Coatesville, luck wasn’t on La Salle’s side. Three of the team’s most talented players left the game with injuries, and Coatesville took a 21-7 lead toward the end of the first half.

With his team short-handed, Franklin hit another gear.

“He was ‘all over’ the place that game,” said Ryan Coonahan, a current teammate of Franklin’s. “That game was just different, like really, really competitive. And he was right in the mix from start to finish.”

The Explorers fought valiantly, but ultimately fell on the wrong-end of a 42-35 final score.

In the locker room after the game, Franklin broke his natural vow of silence and addressed the team. To the graduating players who had just played their final game, he apologized. To the returning players, he stimulated the next step, telling them it was time to start training because that couldn’t happen again.

“He’s probably the best leader and hardest worker I’ve ever been around,” Coonahan said.

The days leading up to Franklin’s offseason workouts were normal. He bounced in the hallways, gave out high-fives like takeout menus and was his usual, goofy self. He encouraged his teammates to join him and shook off the heartbreaking loss by stretching a smile across his face.

And then, when the weekend hit, he used that same loss as fuel to get better. He put his headphones in, taped up and practiced, silently, with his next task in mind.

Franklin isn’t blind to the bigger picture. He just prefers to take things, especially on the football field, in chromatic steps.

“With me, Syracuse is getting a really hard worker and I can’t get there soon enough,” he said, “but I still have a high school season to play.”

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