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A Q&A with John Franklin III, ‘Last Chance U’ reality star QB-turned-NFL prospect

Let’s talk to the Netflix star about how close he came to quitting football, what he thinks of the NCAA’s rules on transfers, and more.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Florida Atlantic Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

John Franklin III is 23 years old, but he’s already lived several football lives. He played two primary positions at four different colleges, and he spent one of those stints as a star on the Netflix reality show Last Chance U.

The former Florida State, East Mississippi Community College, Auburn, and FAU quarterback/receiver talked to SB Nation ahead of the NFL Draft. After closing on in a deal with Seattle in undrafted free agency, Franklin has turned up in Bears minicamp, where he’s working out as a defensive back.

I lightly edited our April conversation for clarity and length.

More people have watched you off the field than probably any other player in this draft. How has that exposure changed your life and your football career?

JF III: It changed my life tremendously. There’s not a place I go to now that somebody doesn’t recognize me from the show, just off my face. So it changed my life a lot.

But also, I like it a lot, because it gave me a platform to be able to reach out and help others through my story and through my journey. I get a lot of positive response back from a lot of people around the world — Germany, Francis, Paris, a lot of places that use my story and it keeps them going, and they always let me know how me personally and my story from the show is what kept them from stopping what they were doing.

You were the backup quarterback during Season 1 of the show, and it showed a lot of your disappointment at not playing. What did you think of your portrayal in the show?

JF III: Before it came out, the director warned me. He was like, “Yo, at the end of the day, it’s entertainment, what people wanna see.” At first, I was like, “Man, is this gonna cause me problems?” but then I started thinking about it like, “Man, it’s real life. It’s like stuff you can’t make up,” and that’s really how life goes. It gives people something to relate to, because life ain’t gonna always be peaches and cream, and at the end of the day, it’s when things don’t go your way, what are you gonna do?

Now, I’m most definitely thankful, just because people can relate to it and see that, and maybe they’ll just keep going a little bit more. I’m satisfied with it now. It took a little while to get to this conclusion, but I’m more grateful for it now than I was before. Before, it was just more about being on Netflix, and now it’s about changing and helping people.

Franklin during Season 1

The show’s called Last Chance U, but this is a really good junior college program. When you were the backup QB there, how close did you feel to actually being done with this game and being out of it altogether?

JF III: Yeah, while I was in JUCO, I was ready to hang it up, really. I was ready to walk away from the game and call it quits, but I just had to realize God put me down here for a reason, so I’ve got to use that. You’ve gotta play the cards you’re dealt. That’s just how life works. I had to not let anyone else take my happiness.

Was there ever a thought like, “I can’t walk, because if I walk, people are gonna see it. It’s gonna be televised?”

JF III: Nah, I didn’t care about that. We were filmed every day, all day, for like six months. So you get immune to people following you around on the camera. It’s real life. What was going on was what was really going on in my life. It was hard. But it was just portrayed and filmed, and recorded for the world to see. It didn’t change anything that was going on with me.

You played for some real personalities. We all saw Buddy Stephens on Netflix. Everyone knows Lane Kiffin. You played for straight arrows in Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahn. What did you learn playing for coaches of such different styles and schemes?

JF III: You’ve gotta learn to adapt, and that’s one of the biggest things here at the next level, is adapting. You could be on one team one day and the next team the next, and you’ve gotta learn how to adapt, come in, play your role, and do what you gotta do, do what’s asked of you. And really, you’ve just gotta control what you control. I was fortunate to play under great coaches, all of them. I probably had the most fun while I was here at FAU under Coach Kiffin, just ‘cause we kind of embody the same things, as far as winning at all costs.

What do you think of the NCAA’s transfer rules?

JF III: I personally don’t think that players should be penalized for leaving schools. A lot of people don’t know the reasons behind leaving school, and everybody thinks, “Oh, he did something, he got in trouble.” That’s not the case at all, especially in my case. Some people just want an opportunity — a fair opportunity. I feel like you shouldn’t be penalized for having that right to be somewhere where you feel important, where you feel you’re needed, not necessarily wanted. I feel like it’ll put an accountability on coaches, because there’s so much in the recruiting process you get told as a recruit, so many promises coaches make, and they don’t hold up their end of the deal. And the athlete suffers for it at the end of the day, ‘cause the coach is gonna go ahead and every year, they offer and offer and offer.

They say stuff to get you there. When you get there, everything goes out the window, because they got you there, and that’s not fair for the athlete, because you’re thinking one thing, and this one individual doesn’t necessarily hold onto their words all the time. I don’t think these athletes should have to sit out. I feel like if the NCAA passes this transfer rule, it’ll be good, because it’ll hold those coaches accountable for the things they say.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Auburn vs Oklahoma
Franklin spent 2016 at Auburn
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Was one of the things you were told that you felt didn’t hold up about playing QB and sticking at that position?

JF III: No, it was just about being a feature of the offense. Everyone says, “We wanna do this. We wanna do that.” But when it comes down to it, there’s nothing to really show for it, so it’s just a bunch of words. I’m a firm believer in “don’t say anything if you can’t back it up.” I think I’ve proven that quite a bit. Even in the show, if I said I was gonna score a touchdown, I went out there and scored a touchdown.

That goes beyond sports. That’s just life in general. If you say you’re gonna do something, then do it, and that’s not the case in the game. It’s such a dirty business, but somebody has to be held accountable for it. And really, as a player, you don’t have much say-so, but as a coach, you should be accountable.

You wound up playing several positions, with some running back and receiver mixed in at Auburn and FAU. How much has your quarterback experience helped you now that you’re working out as a receiver?

JF III: Playing quarterback helped me within the game of football, period. Learning the game as a quarterback helped take my game to another level, understand the defense, understand where holes are, where openings are in defenses.

To step out to the receiver role, it kind of takes that pressure off of having to control everything, but honestly, just ‘cause I’m the type of player that I want the ball in my hands when it matters the most, that’s just the confidence I have about myself. I know I’m gonna do good things with it. As a receiver, it’s less responsibility. It’s easier to play the game how I play it. But I definitely miss playing quarterback, just to be in command of everything.

As you try to make your way into this league, do you expect that receiver is your spot?

JF III: Yeah. A lot of teams want me to play receiver. Everybody knows I played quarterback, but a lot of teams want me to play receiver. I kind of knew that going in, just ‘cause my athleticism. At this point, I’ll play whatever gets me in the door. I feel like I’m athletic enough to play wherever I’ve gotta play.

I saw the video where you have your 40 time at a 4.19 seconds. I promise that I’m not trying to sound incredulous, but it’s just really fast. How does one run a 40-yard dash that quickly?

JF III: I mean, I’ve always been fast. When I first got to Auburn, I ran a 4.28 on the laser. The following spring, I ran a 4.25 on the laser. I ran track since I was in high school. I’ve been a fast guy for all my life, really. It kind of surprised me, but not in a way, because I always ran fast times. But that was really rewarding, because I put in a lot of hard work.

Franklin ran a 4.32 laser-timed 40 at the National Scouting Combine, then a 4.44 laser-time 40 at FAU’s pro day a few weeks later.

If John Franklin III makes it in the NFL, that’s gonna be because ________.

JF III: Determination, motivation. I’m self-driven. It’s really just because of my passion and pride, really, to never stop and keep going. It’s been a dream of mine since I was 4 years old and I started playing sports that I was gonna be a professional in any of the sports I played, but football kind of took over. So, John Franklin made the NFL because of determination, because of his grind, work ethic, just the relentlessness to not give up. If the door’s closing or people are saying no, I’ve always found a way to beat the odds.

North Texas v Florida Atlantic Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images