University at Buffalo outside linebacker Jarrett Franklin is thinking about a career in either nanotechnology or energy systems.
He’s an electrical engineering major with a 3.2 grade-point average. He spent his summer writing code for a program analyzing electrical-system efficiency.
It’s no wonder that Franklin last week aced the most demanding mental challenge the UB defense will face all season. UB had a week to learn a foreign game plan to defend Army’s triple-option offense. The Bulls held Army 21 points under its season average in a 23-20 overtime win, and Franklin made a career-high 17 tackles.
“I sat there and watched the tape of the Army game and was almost inspired just by watching Jarrett,” said UB linebackers coach Chris Simpson. “It was his motor and his tenacity. He was playing football the way you’re supposed to play football and the way you’re supposed to play linebacker. It wasn’t any superhuman athletic feats, but that dude was playing his butt off.”
Franklin, a 6-foot-1 red-shirt junior, is a cornerstone of a UB defense that today faces arguably its biggest physical challenge of the season.
UB steps up in class when it visits Boston College of the Atlantic Coast Conference at 1 p.m. at Chestnut Hill, Mass., just outside of Boston.
Franklin is a fine athlete. He was a state wrestling champion as a high school senior in St. Charles, Mo., just outside of St. Louis. He was under-recruited in part because he stayed at the 182-pound wrestling class.
Now he’s 230 pounds and has the toughness to defend the edge against the run, as he showed against Army. But his ability to play fast and assignment sound is his biggest strength.
“He’s a smart kid, obviously, and he’s able to handle a lot, whether it be on-field checks or playing different positions,” Simpson said.
“I can get him to see the big picture -- not just what his job is but what everybody else’s job is, which makes you a better defense,” Simpson said. “That’s what you need as a linebacker, because you’re tied in with the front end and the back end.”
Simpson says UB benefits from Franklin’s ability to correct mistakes in the moment.
“We had a backer pressure called early against Army, and he didn’t do it correctly,” Simpson said. “But then we ran it again at another point in the game, and he made the tackle. He fought off a cut-block and strained down the line of scrimmage and made a tackle by grabbing the ankle of the quarterback on the option going the other direction. The first time we ran, it he was up in there and backed out. He shouldn’t have backed out, and the ball hit where he was supposed to be going. He learns.”
Franklin’s plate is full due to his demanding major. He had a summer internship with Energy Systems Integration, a research facility at UB that does a lot of work on predicting failure in electrical systems. Its research has ramifications on anything from televisions and stereos to NASA satellites to navigational systems for Navy submarines.
“My original plan was to do something in nanotechnology,” Franklin said. “It could be microchips on artificial hearts or organs to other computer technology. It’s amazing how you fit so much technology onto microns.”
(A micron is a millionth of a meter, much smaller than the width of a human hair.)
“But I had an internship this summer in power systems,” Franklin said. “Now I’m trying to broaden how I’m going to use the degree. I did coding. We did research about power systems, making sure everyone has power when they need power. It’s fun stuff.”
“It’s an exciting time to be an electrical engineer,” Franklin said, “because solar panels are up and coming, and all renewable energy is up and coming.”
Franklin saw significant snaps as a true freshman during UB’s bowl season in 2013, and he was a full-time starter in 2014. But he sat out all last season while recovering from back surgery.
He won his starting job back to open this season, and his role got even more important with the decision of his backup, Brandon Berry, to quit the team last week. Franklin played all 77 snaps against Army.
“To be honest, my freshman year I took this whole D1 college football thing for granted,” Franklin said. “Sitting out an entire year and watching my teammates get better and everyone playing, it really got to me. I don’t want to take it for granted anymore. I want to get better with my team.”