Syracuse senior linebacker Zaire Franklin hungry to lead Orange to first bowl game in 4 years

first_img Published on September 26, 2017 at 10:13 pm Contact Matthew: | @MatthewGut21 On a wooden bench inside a locker room at Manley Field House, Julian Whigham slumped his head. In 2014, he found himself reading often about blown coverages and penalty flags, his junior season not living up to the hype. This article in particular though, he said, criticized him as the focal point of Syracuse’s defensive struggles in a year when the Orange finished 3-9. Two lockers down, a freshman linebacker noticed his teammate’s body language. He walked over and slapped him on the shoulder.“He goes, ‘You good, Whig?’” Whigham said. “The way he said it, his positive energy, it made me feel better.”It was Zaire Franklin, with his deep, friendly “Barry White-ish” voice. The same freshman who called for 6 a.m. linebackers meetings. The same freshman who, after older teammates missed tackles or assignments, tapped them on the helmet to remind them to lock in. The same freshman who grew up early, about a year removed from the deaths of his mother and grandmother, which both still drive him.This fall, the senior middle linebacker is the first three-time captain in more than 100 years. Franklin committed to SU as a three-star linebacker from North Philadelphia and how he became a leading man on the much-improved Syracuse (2-2) defense traces not to his big hits or pregame pep talks, but to his Philly roots and the SU locker rooms of two and three years ago. Yet, he knows what’s at stake, because if this season ends like the last three, Franklin will have helmed Syracuse’s first graduating class since 2009 to finish without a winning season.“I want to be a difference maker,” Franklin said. “I don’t just want to change the game. I want to be a difference-maker on the field.”AdvertisementThis is placeholder textDaily Orange File PhotoIn the spring of 2013, former SU defensive line coach Tim Daoust picked up Scott Shafer from Philadelphia International Airport and the pair set off for Shafer’s three recruiting visits. Shafer’s list that day included eventual Syracuse safety Rodney Williams, as well as Franklin. Shafer, at another recruit’s house, had polished off a steak shortly before arriving at Franklin’s house. Once there, Shafer sat down at the table, saw a plate of Philly cheesesteaks and looked up.There was no way Shafer could eat this. It would be his third meal in as many hours.Franklin motioned for Shafer to get up from the table, pulled him aside and smirked at his recruiter.“Coach, you’ve got to eat the Philly cheesesteak,” Franklin quipped.It was the same humor Franklin has showed in his four years at Syracuse. When sophomore wide receiver Devin C. Butler missed an optional practice last season, Franklin called him later that day and told him not to miss optional practices again. He loosens up every room he’s in, former players and coaches said, and helps players who are down refocus on the task at hand. Those who know him attribute it to his ability to relate to seemingly everyone; Franklin once served as president of his fraternity, SU’s Omega Psi Phi chapter.“Coach Shafer sat me down as a freshman and said, ‘Look, I think you can be a captain as a sophomore.’” Franklin said. “And I kind of looked at him like he was crazy, knowing that we had seniors coming back. But he’s the one that just kind of gave me that freedom and that courage to be a leader even as a young guy on the team.”Earlier this month, Franklin rattled off several of his favorite cheesesteak and burger spots back home, including Drake Tavern on York Road in Jenkintown. It was there that, after practices at La Salle College (Pennsylvania) High School, Franklin and former La Salle coach Eric Taylor chowed down on burgers.They often ate after the long days which helped shape Franklin’s muscular 6-foot, 236-pound frame. Before his freshman year at SU, he spent hot June afternoons at La Salle with Taylor. At the start of a specific cardio workout program in particular, Taylor recalled, Franklin and seven others lined up for Day 1. The second week, three were left. Then two. Then only Zaire, who remained focused on ranking near the top of the conditioning test at SU. Sometimes, Taylor said, Franklin showed up already having run earlier that morning. Then he’d then run suicides, then a hill nearby and then finished with kettlebell workouts.“It was like watching Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk,” Connor Resch, Franklin’s former La Salle teammate, said.Daily Orange File PhotoThis June, Franklin called Taylor and asked to work out. He searched through Taylor’s garage for stepover bags and hurdles so he could work out the next day at 6 a.m.John Steinmetz, Franklin’s high school defensive coordinator, knew he had a special player when Franklin fired him questions about the defense before he played a down of varsity football. He quizzed his coach on the schemes and, when he became a starter as a sophomore, sent Steinmetz emails the day before games, clarifying coverages or film study.At Syracuse, Shafer remembered walking into the football offices to find Franklin and former SU graduate assistant coach Siriki Diabate glued to a screen, studying film before 7 a.m.In Shafer’s last season, former SU quarterback Terrel Hunt said, some players “began failing drug tests.” Franklin fumed. He created contracts for team members to sign, stating that they would never be late to team meetings and workouts again, and that they would abstain from alcohol and drugs.“It was, ‘Who’s this little sophomore trying to start up things?’” Hunt said. “Sure enough, everyone was there. He made the whole defense work out. … And the thing that makes him special is he doesn’t worry about who gets the credit.”On the field, several players said what sticks out most about Franklin is his voice, a deep bass thundering through the crowd. Off it, Shafer remembered pulling in guys to his office for meetings. Any problems players had, from health to playing time to family issues, he was often the second person to address them. Franklin had gotten there first.“Zaire always knew where these guys were and what their issues were,” Shafer said. “He was always helping guys behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the coaches.”Andy Mendes | Digital Design EditorNow, in regular YouTube segments called “Z60,” Franklin asks teammates what motivates them. In the Sept. 6 edition, he asked redshirt junior wide receiver Jamal Custis what inspires him. Custis looked back to his childhood, when he grew up with his single mother. His father died when he was 4.“She did everything she can to get me to where I’m at,” Custis told Franklin. “I feel like I have to repay her.”One of the first times Franklin stepped into a Syracuse weight room, he was on his official visit. He could not work out because of NCAA policy, but he and other commits watched as former SU linebacker Josh Kirkland hang-cleaned 331 pounds. As music blared from the speakers, Franklin burst from the side. He clapped his hands and jumped. He yelled that he wanted to someday become the guy cleaning 300-plus pounds, his teammates rallying around him.“He has this enthusiasm, this juice that can’t be matched by anyone,” former Syracuse quarterback AJ Long said.“It’s who he’s always been, and who he’ll always be.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more

Nenagh and Cashel encounter tough afternoons

first_imgMunster have the chance to go second in the  Pro 12 table this evening. Nenaghs Donnacha Ryan, Keith Earls,  and Conor Murray are all in Anthony Foley’s side for their trip to Edinburgh at 5.15. The Northern team led 18 to 3 at half time and after a tough encounter were defeated in the end on a 47 points to 10 scorelineCashel were up against Queens at Spafield. Cashel led by 13 points to 7 at half time but Queens have responded and got a try at the death to run out 26 to 23 winners.last_img read more