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It’s hard to believe that there may any one player who means more to his high school football team in Arkansas on Friday night in terms of his performance on offense, defense and special teams as Marion’s Jerry Franklin.
Franklin (6-3, 210) – a college safety prospect who has his college choice down to the foes in Saturday’s game between the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss - is having a monster senior season in which he has found the end zone in a variety of different ways.
He has scored via touchdown runs, touchdown catches, interception returns for a pair of scores, a fumble recovery taken to the house and thrown in a 98-yard kickoff return for an additional six for good measure.
“I pray to God before every game to give me the strength to go out there and make plays to help my team,” Franklin said. “So far, a lot of my prayers have been answered.”
Franklin and Marion (4-3, 1-2) - who has lined up as a receiver and running back on offense this season - are coming off a heartbreaking 39-34 loss at Mountain Home, but it wasn’t because of his lack of effort.
Mountain Home took a 36-12 lead early in the third quarter before Franklin – who had taken a kickoff back 98 yards – turned up the level of his play to get his team back in it.
First he scored on a 7-yard run, then picked up a fumble and ran it in for a score and got Marion within 36-34 when he ripped off a 51 yard sprint for another rushing touchdown score.
Mountain Home added a field goal for a 39-34 lead before Marion’s effort to win the game came up short on a 4th down and 7 at the Bombers’ 25-yard line.
“I thought we were going to pull it out, but we just came up a little short and didn’t play well enough in the first half to give ourselves enough time to come back and win it,” Franklin said. “I was doing everything I could to help us come back, but it just wasn’t enough in the end.”
This was at least the second time this season that Franklin has put the Patriots on his back in a quest for an improbable come-from-behind win.
He was also the big star in rallying Marion from a 28-11 deficit against West Memphis in the first game in 26 years between the two schools that are just four miles apart.
Before a capacity crowd of 8,000, Franklin first intercepted a pass and returned it 39 yards for a score.
On his team’s following possession, he hauled in a 34-yard touchdown catch – his second of the game - that got his team within 28-25.
Marion, which has wins over Wynne, Forrest City and twice had chances to score while deep inside West Memphis territory after that, but came up empty.
“It was such a great atmosphere with fans just all over the place and the bleachers packed,” said Franklin, who dragged two defenders the last five yards into the end zone with him on his first touchdown catch. “When we first came out the crowd was already all there and you knew it was something big. I just wish we could have gotten that final touchdown and it would have been just a perfect night.”
Franklin won’t be able to make it up to see Ole Miss (2-5, 1-3) visit No. 17 Arkansas (5-1, 3-0) game this weekend because of the early 11:30 a.m. kickoff, but he will be watching the SEC game intently on television.
“I think it’s going to be a good game, but if Arkansas plays like it did against Auburn, they will be tough for anybody to beat,” Franklin said. “They game really told me a lot about the Razorbacks and how much heart they have to go along with their ability. They are doing a lot of great things.”
Franklin made it to Fayetteville for the Arkansas-USC game and plans to see an Ole Miss game live before the season is over.
“Ole Miss is a young team and have had a lot of problems so far,” Franklin said. “I think they are building and will be a lot better in the future than they are now.”
Franklin, who lives about 100 miles from Oxford and 300 from Fayetteville, said he plans to make his decision rather quickly in December.
“I am going to take my two visits to Arkansas and Ole Miss the first couple of weeks in December and then decide,” Franklin said. “Both are close enough to home that the distance isn’t going to be a factor. I just have to go where I feel most comfortable and where the future would be best for me.”
He does admit that Arkansas – who at first was looking at him as an outside linebacker – helped its chances immensely recently when it told him that now see him as a safety on the college level.
“I’ll make plays wherever they put me, but I do like safety more than linebacker,” Franklin said. “It would be pretty tough going up against those 6-6, 300 pound offensive lineman all the time. I’m comfortable being able to use my speed and hitting ability at safety and the fact that is where Arkansas sees me at now is a big plus for them.”