Just under 10 minutes remained in UCLA’s blowout win over Arizona on Saturday and the Bruins starters rested comfortably on the sideline, having built a 49-point lead.
Redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin had shattered the school’s all-time rushing yards record in the first quarter and stood just behind coach Jim Mora while the second-team unit entered the game in mop-up duty.
All of a sudden, Franklin was gone.
“He didn’t even ask me, he just took off,” Mora said. “I didn’t have a chance to hold him back. I would have had to chase after him and I never would have caught him.”
UCLA’s new rushing king bolted from the sideline to the end zone to celebrate the Bruins ninth touchdown of the game.
But Franklin wasn’t rubbing it in ““ far from it.
On his big night he was more elated for his close friend and redshirt sophomore running back Melvin Emesibe, who had just scored his first career touchdown.
“It was a special moment,” Emesibe said.
“It’s going to be a night we can look back on years from now and say, “˜You set a record and I scored my first touchdown.’ He was more happy for me and I was more happy for him. All I could talk about to him was, “˜You broke the career record’ but all he could talk about was me.”
Franklin incurred a 15-yard personal foul penalty for leaving the sideline without his helmet to tackle a teammate.
Mora didn’t mind.
“That reaction by his teammates showed how much they appreciate, respect and care about that kid,” Mora said. “This is not like a Rudy story. This is a guy that’s a good player but what they respect is how hard he works, what he’s overcome in his life to get where he is and how passionate he is about this team.”
Emesibe’s positive attitude is all the more impressive considering the difficult road he took to arrive in Westwood. His mother passed away when he was 10 years old, forcing him and his four siblings to move from Nashville, Tenn., to Hesperia, Calif.
Mora said Emesibe shared his story with the team during fall camp in San Bernardino and called it both a “very genuine” and “emotional” moment.
It’s no surprise, then, that offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said Emesibe received louder cheers than Franklin as the team broke down film on Sunday.
Emesibe walked on to the team in 2010 and has been a permanent fixture on the scout team ever since.
While he rarely gets to see the field on Saturdays, his happy-go-lucky attitude and omnipresent smile make him a popular teammate.
“He’s the ultimate team player,” running backs coach Steve Broussard said.
“It’s a testament to a kid that continues to strive to do things right. All the players love him and get excited when he gets a chance to get in the game.”