Gary Pinkel said he rarely makes a mistake when deciding to pull the redshirt off one of his freshmen.
The performance of wide receiver William Franklin, a true freshman, in the Tigers’ 48-0 win Saturday against Ball State shows Pinkel has good reason to make that claim. In his third college game, Franklin was one of quarterback Brad Smith’s and backup Brandon Coleman’s best options, accounting for 76 of Missouri’s 268 passing yards.
Franklin’s biggest play was a 41-yard touchdown pass from Coleman in the fourth quarter for Missouri’s last score.
Coleman hit Franklin in stride as he was sprinting down the right sideline, allowing Franklin to high step into the end zone over a diving Cardinal defensive back.
“That felt real good,” Franklin said.
“To be legit out here I had to get that out of me, you know, to be ready to do whatever they ask me to do.”
Thus far Franklin has played more than any other freshman on the team. He has three catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Although Franklin is not one of the team leaders in receptions, he has displayed his athletic ability and the rationale behind his nickname “Helicopter”, leading the team in average yards per reception (27.7). On Saturday his two catches were for 41 and 35 yards.
His 35-yard reception came in the second quarter on second down from Missouri’s 35-yard line when he bailed out a scrambling Smith by getting open on the sideline and earning a first down in a drive that resulted in a Smith touchdown.
“That’s just a drill we work on in practice every day,” Franklin said.
“When we see Brad rolling out it’s the scramble drill, so you have to get to your open spot and wait for Brad to pick you up.”
Listed second on the depth chart behind Brad Ekwerekwu, Franklin has played in all three games, but Saturday was the most playing time he has seen.
Franklin said he did not know he was going to be involved in the game as much as he was.
“Coach always says, ‘stay ready Will, any play can be your play. Stay ready keep your mind in the game and stay focused,’” Franklin said.
Pinkel said he is pleased with Franklin’s performance through three games and that the pass he caught from Smith shows that he has the potential to be a dangerous asset for the passing game in the future.
“He’s very heady, he’s a great athlete,” Pinkel said.
“Some receivers are better at finding space out there when a quarterback is scrambling. I think he’s a guy that can do those kind of things, and he’s just going to get better and better and better.
“He’s also a great kid. He has a great attitude, so you add all those things up.”