Originally posted on Fox Sports Midwest  |  Last updated 12/17/11
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- James Franklin swung his helmet between both hands and showed the same light personality after four months of growth. The sophomore Missouri quarterback still answered questions with, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir." He still spoke about creating a legacy within a lineage that includes recent stars such as Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert. And he still addressed his role with innocence -- he said he feels bad for not targeting some wide receivers as much as others. But Franklin paused before leaving practice Friday at the Devine Pavilion wishing he could give his former self some advice. He would tell the wide-eyed player on the first day of fall camp not to worry as much about mistakes. He learned patience in his first 12 games as a starter, and he knows there will be more lessons to come. "That's something in the game that I was thinking about a quarter, two quarters, all the way to halftime -- even the third quarter," Franklin said. "I did that a lot. I stayed negative, and I worried about plays in the past when I should have put that away. It took me a long time. The advice I should have given myself was not to worry about those mistakes as long." Franklin's education will continue when Missouri plays North Carolina in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26 in Shreveport, La. He led the Tigers to a 7-5 record, helping to extend a school-record bowl streak to seven appearances. As Missouri makes final preparations, Franklin approaches his position with more maturity. As part of that process, he had to learn to be more vocal. Franklin is outgoing away from the field, but he said he had to grow comfortable directing his team during play. Once he did, the communication helped him grasp Missouri's spread scheme on his way to passing for 2,733 yards and rushing for 839. "It's not so much saying more out there, but it's just communicating with the guys and talking to them more so we're on the same page and don't have to say anything," Franklin said. "I think that's the biggest part of where I've grown the most this year." Franklin's growth came after he entered the season with expectations. As a freshman, the 6-foot-2 Corinth, Texas, native was groomed for the starting role by appearing in 10 games behind Gabbert. Later, after spring practice, he was named the starter following a tight competition with Blaine's younger brother, Tyler. Franklin's early tenure included obstacles. He threw for a then-season high 319 yards in Missouri's loss to Arizona State on Sept. 9, snapping a 22-game nonconference winning streak. From there, the Tigers dropped three of their next five games -- including a 21-point rout by Oklahoma State that included three interceptions from the young quarterback. Following one mid-season loss, junior wide receiver T.J. Moe approached the frustrated signal-caller and said, "It's a team sport, buddy. It's not on you." At that point, Missouri's season included more questions than answers; The Tigers' bowl streak was in doubt, and some wondered whether Franklin had the right qualities to lead. But, on Oct. 29, Franklin's confidence improved during a road game against Texas A&M. He passed for two touchdowns and ran for two more, pushing the Tigers to an overtime victory after erasing a 14-point third-quarter deficit. Franklin's momentum continued in the following weeks. He led the Tigers to three wins in their last four games, the lone loss in the stretch coming against Baylor and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. The run also included the program's first victory over Texas since 1997 and its third straight triumph over archrival Kansas. "He was able to bounce back, and he played really well in a lot of the road games," said Wendell Barnhouse, a correspondent for Big12Sports.com. "The fact that he didn't let things get to him that were negative -- it seems like he has a pretty strong mental outlook." That approach has helped Franklin begin to leave his own mark within Missouri's quarterback tradition. He became known as a dual-threat talent in the mold of Smith. He is careful not to let the past influence his approach, however, saying in his vintage style, "Everyone always tells me I have big shoes to fill, and I always tell them I have my own shoes. And I don't want to wear anyone else's." "James has really grown," coach Gary Pinkel said. "The whole thing with James -- it's the consistency of play. That consistency of playing your best -- we're seeing a lot of that. It's at a lot greater level than we did at the beginning of the season. But he's capable of doing even better. When he does that, it will have a huge impact on our football team." An impact is already being felt. On Friday, Franklin slapped Moe's hand in a playful way as the two players mingled near an exit after practice. Earlier, senior offensive lineman Elvis Fisher tried to distract the quarterback during an interview. Those sights are evidence that Franklin has earned teammates' trust. They know he will guide the program's future, which includes challenges in the Southeastern Conference starting next season. "He made this team his own," said Moe, who has 54 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns this season. "He already knew what his skills were. We kind of had to figure them out. That's how we decided we were going to play this year. He took off and started running like a mad man." Franklin's sprint will continue for the foreseeable future. And there will be more lessons along the way.
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