Imagine UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin regularly walking around the USC campus and donning the cardinal and gold.
No, this isn’t that nightmare Bruin fans get when they try to envision not having Franklin in their backfield. It’s a true story.
As a high schooler, Franklin participated in USC’s Upward Bound program ““ an intensive pre-college preparatory program designed for low-income and first-generation minority students.
“It was a great college prep program, just to get us prepared for college and taking classes, things like that, and understanding how things work in college and just staying on campus at Southern Cal,” Franklin said.
“It was just a great experience being on a college campus and understanding how big it is and how diverse and different the kinds of people there are.”
It was at USC that Franklin began developing the strong demeanor and character that he would cultivate in Westwood.
“He was a leader, even in high school. All the other students in the program would always gravitate toward him,” said Luis Bermudez, his advisor during his time at Upward Bound. “He was one of those students that really, really took advantage of our services, but also would encourage and support and guide students.”
The extent of his charisma, however, didn’t stop with the students.
Michael Santos became the South Central Upward Bound Program Manager when Franklin was already in the program. Franklin’s presence helped Santos transition to the position he has today.
“Johnathan’s always been full of personality ““ he was a complete leader for us. I don’t think I could have gotten through a summer without Johnathan. He was a person that always loved to have fun but always got his schoolwork done,” Santos said.
But although the foundation for his college career began at USC, Franklin always knew where he wanted to be and where he belonged.
His advisors and friends at USC knew as well, yet supported his commitment to their rival school.
“I was excited for him. Although he was here in our program, we knew he really wanted to be a Bruin,” Bermudez said. “Our program is here to get students into college no matter where they want to go. And I was very proud of him because he works hard not only on the field but also in the classroom to earn that scholarship to go to UCLA for football.”
When asked what type of impression the USC campus left on him, Franklin smiled and said, “Well, I’m here at UCLA.”
And while his name is at the top of the UCLA rushing charts, it’s not just his commitment on the field and the classroom that stands out, but his commitment to others.
One summer in the program, Franklin and the other students went to a ropes course in Culver City. The students were instructed to get in harnesses and climb to the top of a telephone pole and upon reaching the top, jump off. Franklin, much like the other students and even Bermudez himself, had his reservations about jumping off. But upon reaching the platform rested on top of the telephone pole and contemplating for some time, Franklin set an example for the others by jumping off, while proclaiming that he knew his fellow students would support him and that he would support them in their future endeavors.
He embodies that same spirit on the field today.
A redshirt senior, Franklin is a veteran on the Bruin roster. He often has a word with individual players, addressing their issues or rallying the entire team with his leadership.
“I’ve taken (redshirt freshman quarterback) Brett Hundley under my wing and (redshirt sophomore corner) Librado Barocio and just other guys ““ so they can understand how to deal with certain things like the media,” Franklin said. “Brett, he’s in a big position right now, so (I’m) helping him be humble and stay focused. Football isn’t everything ““ there’s more to life than football. I just try and help him understand to think big and be different.”
But the broader implications of being a public figure, at the helm of the UCLA football team, is what entices him to continue to stay committed to those watching him.
Bermudez has maintained his relationship with Franklin, taking Upward Bound students at USC to UCLA where Franklin talks to them about his experience transitioning to college ““ imparting wisdom and words of encouragement to the students.
Many of the students that visit Franklin with the program view him as a success story. Humble, diligent and hardworking, he’s the personification of the type of student the program hopes to develop.
“It’s such a blessing (to be a role model),” Franklin said. “I came from a neighborhood where a lot of people don’t go to college or don’t make it out of the neighborhood. So just to be that role model and to show them they can do it, if they stay committed and stay focused, I’m humbled to be in this situation and this position… to be a leader, a mentor, a role model.”
“It’s what I love to do ““ impact lives. Every day, I try to put what I’ve learned into someone else.”