James Franklin: A different kind of courage

Quarterback James Franklin has played through pain and rejected medication along the way.
Junior quarterback James Franklin looks to pass during a game earlier this season at Faurot Field. Franklin did not start Saturday's game against Arizona State due to a shoulder injury.

On the day Columbia’s Twitterverse swirled with the uncertainty of James Franklin’s ability to play, Corbin Berkstresser, Missouri’s redshirt freshman backup quarterback, injected the stream with a simple message.

“Joshua 1:9,” Berkstresser wrote in a tweet, a Bible verse that begins like this:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.”

Berkstresser took the field for his first start and got his first win, completing 21 of his 41 passes. He touted Arizona State defenders with him as he cradled the ball and broke into the end zone at the end of his second possession.

Before the game, Franklin was in full gear, wearing shoulder pads, pants and a helmet, too. Onlookers could see a smooth delivery. His right arm would cock back like a bow and the ball would leave his fingertips.

What could not be seen was the inflamed bursa sac, the cushion of fluid between the bones and the ligaments, in his throwing shoulder.

Franklin could feel it throb when his arm was in motion to throw. When asked to describe the pain, he thought of an oversized bumblebee’s stinger digging into him.

“No matter how much I tried to fight through it, I couldn't,” Franklin said Monday.

This time, he could not.

“It was just too painful for him, and he didn’t want to play,” coach Gary Pinkel said plainly after the game.

Franklin had played his way to a breakout 2011 through pain. The nation came to know him as a dual-threat quarterback able to go to the air just as he was able to pinball through three Texas A&M defenders last October, getting past the third one by lowering his shoulder and absorbing a crackling blow before spinning off it and dashing the rest of the 20 yards for a touchdown.

All the while, the labrum in Franklin's right shoulder was shredding away. During one March practice, he outstretched his arm for a fumble on the ground, and a pile of teammates finished off the cartilage.

He took nearly five months to recover from surgery, and there he was in August, appearing in midseason form, running sprints at the end of practice as the only player who chose not to shed his shoulder pads.

Last year’s pain could have been quelled. Before that game against the Aggies, before he plowed past that defense and into SportsCenter’s top-10 plays, a painkilling shot was offered.

The pain Franklin felt Saturday could have been relieved with the injection of cortisone. The hormone would course through and do the job it does in so many bodies belonging to football players.

He refused the shot.

“He’s just always maintained that kind of mindset that he doesn't take shots and those things,” offensive coordinator David Yost said. “That’s just who he is, and it didn’t surprise me. … I know the pain he played through last year. When he tells me it’s hurting enough that he doesn't think he’d be effective as a quarterback, I know it must be painful.”

The tiny white pills he was instructed to take after his surgery to reduce the pain weren’t consumed for long either. Franklin said he even eschews aspirin.

“In our family, we don’t believe in taking medication (for pain) or trying to soften anything with any drugs," said Willie Franklin, his father, to a St. Louis columnist.

The choice to avert medication was a personal choice and only that, having nothing to do with spirituality, James Franklin said.

He said he relates the decision to others he makes in his life.

“I see it as a little bit (how) I don't like to drink, and a lot of people drink,” he said. “I don't like to cuss, and a lot of people cuss.”

The pain, as he describes it, is necessary.

“Me personally, I’m going to feel the pain and if I’m going to hurt it, then I want to feel every second of it to feel how far I can go and how far I can’t,” he said.

On Monday, James Franklin was back to smiling, answering questions with “Yes, sir” and “Yes, ma’am,” and assuring all that he expected to play in the team’s upcoming road game against South Carolina.

Berkstresser put his arm over him on their way back to the locker room Saturday night. When they’re not watching film, Berkstresser said the two might catch dinner, play pool together or maybe get a Wendy’s Frosty together throughout any week.

“James is a tough kid,” Berkstresser said. “It’s hard to tell when he’s hurting because he just kind of puts it off. James is probably the toughest kid on the team, so it’s a little different with James. And he’s trying to lead.”

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