Johnathan Franklin is now and will always be one of my favorite Bruin heroes.
I have only vague recollections of him as a freshman, coming in when CRN was still new, when the honeymoon was still on. I remember fumbles, and mental errors, and jitters that come with every young player stepping onto the Rose Bowl turf the first few times.
I remember hearing about so many Gatorade Players of the Year and similarly-lauded players coming to our backfield, looking to take on the NCAA world. I remember hearing about the dissatisfied and the disappointed blue-chippers leaving for greener pastures.
And I remember Franklin staying. For FOUR YEARS, he learned. He grew. He matured. He persevered. He STAYED.
I remember him showing flashes of consistency and shiftiness, punctuated by the maddening, always untimely fumble.
And I remember him coming into own in his later years at UCLA, with his teammates telling how Franklin would bring a football with him TO CLASSES, telling people on the team and off to try and strip it from him.
I remember CJM pointing to Franklin as a leader, as a rock, as someone the team looked to as an example. I remember Brett Hundley - before he was Heisman candidate Brett Hundley - saying how he knew he could count on him to have his back and be his safety valve on the field.
I remember telling my unfailingly enthusiastic son (then the age of 11) about the "Jet Ski" nickname, and telling him how Franklin is a great player because keeps working to get better, no matter what mistakes he's made in past games or whoever else might come in to take the starting job. In my mind, I can still hear my son cheering at the top of his lungs for him at home games, rooting for him on every touch. I remember wanting to hit the UCLA Store the Monday after he broke the all-time rushing record, because if I was ever going to get one of those money-grab alternate jerseys, it was going to be for the one that Franklin wore when he shuffled, shifted, and sprinted into the record books.
I remember meeting this young man outside the Beat $C bonfire, 2 days before the Redemption in the Rain, and shaking his hand. I praised him, and thanked him for his hard work. I only wish I would have told him how much he inspired me and my son, and how he gave me a tangible, Blue and Gold example of one of the most important sports/life lessons that I learned as I grew older: that no matter how many times you might drop the ball - in a game or in life - the best, most important thing you can do is to pick it back up, and keep running forward.
I remember being at the Rose Bowl on a torrentialday in Pasadena, as my wife and I took our boy to his very first, in-stadium $C Game. We knew the downpours of water and profanity were coming, but we knew we had a legitimate shot at winning.
And yes, we saw #23 fumble in the rain at the start of the second half, but later on we saw the Jet Ski race through the puddles and skip over ponds for a late-game, dagger-in-the-heart score.
As much as I wanted him to be drafted my beloved Chicago Bears, I was happy for him to go to an NFL team - even if it was the hated Packers. And yes, in one of his only professional games, he fumbled - but I had no doubt he would pick up the ball and make forward progress again.
His playing days are over, and I am sad for him for it. And yet I am proud his name is etched in Bruin football history. I am so grateful I got to see him in his athletic prime - young, strong, comparatively wise from the college sports perspective - and with his future ahead of him. His resume may no longer have personal athletic accomplishments to add, but this former Los Angeles Mayor's Office Intern has a future that is still very much bright, and replete with possibilities.
The ball is on the ground, and not by his doing, yet I look forward to watching him pick it up and keep running forward.
THANK YOU, JOHNATHAN FRANKLIN.
For your hard work.
For your perseverance.
For your example - both to me and my son.
FOR BEING A BRUIN.