After college coaches stop by to visit St. Amant High School football coach David Oliver, the debate about KJ Franklin typically starts again.
“Right now, I would say it’s a split decision,” Oliver said. “About half the coaches we talk to like KJ as a defensive back. The other half think he would be better as slot receiver. For us, he has played both and this season he always plays running back and has been our best offensive player. When we need him, you will see him on defense.”
Franklin does not wow recruiters with his size. Elusiveness is his calling card. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound senior shares an important attribute with the Gators (3-0). Both are flying below the radar going into their first road game against traditional River Parish power Lutcher (1-2) at 7 p.m. Friday.
“They said they needed me more on offense,” Franklin said. “I know some colleges want me to be more of a cornerback. But I’ll do what I’ve got to do for the team. When I first came here, I played more offense and then they had me play more defense. I like doing both, being on offense is fun.”
Playing multiple roles is nothing new for Franklin. He has started on the St. Amant basketball team since he was a freshman. Though basketball was his first love at the age of 5, the allure of not just football, but St. Amant football, came naturally. He grew up watch a series of relatives play for the Gators, including cousin Larry Stewart, a former St. Amant star quarterback.
Franklin helped lead the St. Amant defense a year ago and finished among the state leaders with eight interceptions. He also was among the Gators’ top rushers behind 1,000-yard rusher Cade Nelson.
Through three games, Franklin has 338 rushing yards and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He's also the top receiver with 15 catches for 229 yards and has seven touchdowns.
And yes, he returns kicks and punts.
“I knew I had to get better at catching the ball, so I worked on that this summer in 7-on-7,” Franklin said. “My speed has always been there. I do think I got stronger over the summer and that has helped me get more yards at the end of plays.”
Oliver agrees with Franklin’s last assessment and provides a comparison to Franklin’s running style as a freshman and sophomore.
“KJ used to dance around and it looked good,” Oliver said. “He would go all over the field and wound up with some pretty 2-yard gains. He is a slippery guy that the defense has trouble tackling because you never get a clear shot at him. He still is elusive, but he can also get those tough yards — the Gator yards we call them — when we need them.”
The Gators opened the season with relatively easy wins over John Kennedy and West Jefferson. They edged Helen Cox 10-9.
But things get tougher now. After facing Lutcher, the Gators open District 5-5A at Catholic and then play St. James in nondistrict before meeting Dutchtown, in another 5-5A game.
It figures to also be a crucial stretch for Franklin, who has scholarship offers from Nicholls State, Incarnate Word and Morehead State. He's also hearing from a variety of schools, including several in the Sun Belt Conference. Franklin, a unanimous pick to be a team captain, is focused on the Gators.
“I really got excited about playing here when I was in the eighth grade because the team was really good,” Franklin said. “We’ve been good the last three years. (The senior class) wants to keep it going."