“I was the most miserable I’ve ever been playing football the last two years.”
Strong (and sad) words from new Riders quarterback James Franklin on Tuesday’s Sports Cage. Two years ago Franklin was the hottest name among free agent quarterbacks. He was set to take over a team and build on the incredible stats he’d put up in Edmonton.
Two painful years later, he’s accepted a backup role with the Riders. It has been quite a fall.
“Going through that made me understand that you want to be somewhere you can be yourself and you’ll be accepted for that,” says Franklin.
In 2018 the Argos signed Franklin as a successor to future hall-of-famer Ricky Ray. Whatever was happening in Toronto between the GM that signed Franklin and the coach that would decide playing time, it was clear early to observers that there was trouble. It seemed like Head Coach Marc Trestman didn’t want any part of Franklin.
Does Franklin think Trestman didn’t want him?
“Yeah, it felt like it,” he says.
“Something that was really tough for me was I knew 100% that I was coming in as a backup behind Ricky (Ray). And I’ve never made any accusations as far as like ‘I’m about to come over and take it, I’m the number one, stay out of my way’. I never said anything like that. And so I signed and it was just a few days after, (Trestman) came out and said that saying ‘”James Franklin can compete with Ricky Ray” is disrespectful to Ricky.’
“And I was like ‘Ohhh, ouch (laughs). Right through the heart.’”
That working relationship didn’t improve much over the 2018 season. And neither did Franklin’s play after Ray got injured.
Franklin blames himself for that.
“I was a little too concerned with trying to change or adapt or do things that I thought coaches wanted,” he says. “For a while I was pretty bitter and I was kind of playing the blame game in my head. Like ‘Oh, they did this’ and ‘they did that’.
“I started doubting myself as in ‘Okay, well they’re giving me all these suggestions, they’re telling me to do all these things so that must mean that I don’t know what I’m doing. Or that must mean that I’m not capable of doing these things. So it got to be me not being myself.”
That confidence he showed in three seasons in Edmonton–the confidence that comes with 12 touchdowns and only one interception–that was eventually worn away.
“It was difficult because I was being myself, I wasn’t being disruptive, I was working hard and it was almost like it wasn’t enough,” says Franklin.
“There was one thing after another that really had me start doubting myself to where it was like ‘Man, should I really even be playing football?’ Making me feel like I couldn’t even be playing in a Pee Wee league right now.
“Whenever I enjoy the relationship with my coach, I play a lot better.”
Which could explain the success he had in two seasons under Maas in Edmonton.
Franklin praises Maas for his positivity. Yes, the positivity of the headset-throwingest coach in the CFL.
“Although he’s intense on the sidelines, he is extremely positive when talking to the quarterbacks,” says Franklin.
“And that’s something that I thought was really cool because I hadn’t seen a lot of that with coaches that I’d been around. To be able to come in after a loss…and still be able to keep things light. And help to understand that it hurts to lose and it’s frustrating but we can’t linger on it. We have to be able to move on and do our best to learn from it.”
Franklin appreciated that Maas’ would give him a certain amount of free reign. As the quarterback describes it, it was enough “to feel comfortable and confident enough that he does believe in me,” says Franklin. “And he does trust me and he sees that even though I might not have 20 years of experience and three or four Grey Cups under my belt, that I still can be an accomplished football player.”
And the chance to play again for Maas, now as the Riders Offensive Coordinator was a big draw.
“It doesn’t hurt that he’s a big-time hunter and so am I,” says Franklin.
What does Franklin think he role will be for the 2020 Riders?
“100 per cent the backup. There’s no question that (Cody Fajardo) is the number one. So coming in I just want to help out as much as I can and be ready for an opportunity.
“I hope the only opportunities that I get to play this year are when we’re up by 50 or 60.”
Maybe even the opportunity to have football be fun again.