Kevin Franklin still has the same infectious smile, though at age 39 there’s a touch of gray in his facial hair. Franklin offers no apologies or justifications.
The former Catholic High running back who signed with LSU after earning Parade All-America honors in 1992 is comfortable in his own skin and in his job as the After School Program director at the Pennington YMCA.
“The biggest misconception is that people think my career was a bust because of things I did or didn’t do,” Franklin said. “But I was with two NFL teams for three seasons. I was a practice squad guy and I played in the CFL and played arena football.
“My career was what it was supposed to be. I just didn’t do it the way people thought. I wasn’t the star at LSU like people wanted. But I won a national championship there in a 4x100 relay. And I won a black college national championship at Southern University. I’ve affected some lives, made some money and had tough times. That’s my life.”
On Aug. 8, Franklin will be inducted into Catholic’s Grizzly Greats Athletic Hall of Fame. It’s an honor he relishes after a football career and life that has taken more bounces than a pinball.
For three magical years, the careers of Franklin and future Florida State and NFL star Warrick Dunn were intertwined. The duo played on a Catholic team that lost to Ruston in the Class 4A title game in 1990. Catholic was ranked No. 1 in the first Class 5A poll a year later. Franklin saw Catholic High as a haven.
Though they never won a state title with the Bears, Dunn and Franklin became household names in Baton Rouge and were high-profile recruits when recruiting wasn’t big business. Sans social media, people wanted to know their business.
Would Franklin pick LSU or Florida? Was Dunn going to Florida, Florida State or LSU?
Frankin played running back and was the All-American as a senior. He still ranks second on Catholic’s career rushing list, behind another legend and future FSU-NFL player, Travis Minor (4,706 yards, 52 TDs), with 3,730 TDs and 46 TDs.
Dunn played quarterback his final two seasons at Catholic. The duo shared the spotlight, earning all-state honors. The murder of Dunn’s mother, Baton Rouge police Cpl. Betty Smothers, while working an off-duty security job weeks before signing day fueled recruiting speculation.
While Dunn soared to prominence as a running back at Florida State, Franklin’s star power dimmed as he struggled to find a role that never materialized on coach Curley Hallman’s LSU teams.
“It was the hardest time I had in my life,” Franklin said. “I wondered if I was good enough. Track kept me sane with coach Pat Henry. There was more to it than football. Pat Screen passed at that time, and he was my mentor. My grandmother passed, and my grandfather passed.
“Life had hit me in the face. Now, you’re not playing, you have deaths in your family, and you’ve got to overcome. You’ve got an ankle injury that isn’t healing. What are you going to do? Can you still play?”
There were rays of hope — like a one-handed catch of a Jamie Howard pass in a game against Texas A&M. Franklin also received a medical redshirt year. Coach Gerry DiNardo replaced Hallman and gave Franklin a release to play at Southern.
“Coach DiNardo released me to Southern,” Franklin said. “He told me, ‘Kevin, you mean more to Baton Rouge than you think. You need to be here.’ ”
There was no starring role for Franklin at Southern, either. A move to defensive back at the behest of then-SU coach Pete Richardson, a former NFL DB, was a life-changing event. Franklin said he also fell back on the support of his family and former coaches at Catholic.
“(Richardson) was a defensive back, and he saw something I didn’t even know was in me,” Franklin recalls. “If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t have had a chance to play in the NFL or CFL. He said I’ve got to get Kevin Franklin on the field. Where do we need him?”
Once his college career ended, Franklin continued to bounce around. He was a practice squad player with the Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions. He spent the 2001 season with the Edmonton Eskimos and moved to the Arena Football League for a couple of seasons. At one point, he served as a certified nonfaculty coach at Catholic.
Another former coach, ex-Catholic and current Central coach Sid Edwards, pushed Franklin to finish his degree. He got a degree in political science, but the death of his mother, Karen Spicer, in 2009, signaled another dark time.
Franklin moved to, of all places, Tallahassee, to open an Anytime Fitness franchise with a buddy; it didn’t work out during the recession. He bounced around to other jobs, working briefly in the court system and at a Target store. Franklin was initially hired as a building manager at the YMCA.
“I was living alone,” Franklin said. “My car broke down, and then I had to take a bus for a while. I had to keep working. That’s the theme of my life. You have to keep working, no matter what you’re working at.
“After a few months, I realized I was where I needed to be, working with children. I like being there to mentor them and solve problems. It’s no different than when coach Weiner gave me the ball and knew I would do something with it. I like being a go-to guy.”
When asked to sum up his life, Franklin flashes that bright smile.
“My job at the YMCA is where I feel my purpose,” he said. “I’m still here and still affecting lives. I got the blueprint for that at Catholic High. I’m good.”