From the time he was in fifth grade through the end of his sophomore year in high school, James Franklin could be found just about anywhere on the football field except under center.
He played receiver, tight end, defensive end and linebacker. He was the backup quarterback on his prep sophomore team, but that was more of an emergency thing. A year later, Franklin’s high school coach, Jeremy Males, finally tired of hearing Franklin begging to play quarterback and installed him at the position. It was a good move.
Almost immediately, Franklin showed the big arm that had come to him through the wonders of genetics. “My dad could throw the ball 85 yards,” he says. As a high school junior, Franklin threw for 2,464 yards and 23 scores. A year later, he threw for 2,360, rushed for 1,282 and accounted for 41 TDs. Rivals rated him the nation’s fourth-best dual-threat QB. Tom Lemming considered him the nation’s fifth-best hybrid.
But most colleges didn’t share the same assessment of the 6'2", 230-pound Texan. They saw him as an “athlete,” that dreaded appellation applied to someone who might look good in the slot or at tailback. Perhaps he could play linebacker. Those schools were excised quickly from Franklin’s list.
Then there was Missouri.
“One of the biggest things about the school was that they recruited me as a quarterback,” Franklin says. “A lot of schools weren’t recruiting me for that position.”
It makes sense that the Tigers would see what others couldn’t, since over the past 13 years, they have produced some of the most successful college passers in the nation. Since Gary Pinkel took over after the 2000 season, Mizzou has become a quarterback factory of sorts, boasting a series of prolific passers, each of whom has moved on to play in the NFL. It began with Brad Smith and continued with Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and Franklin. In 2014, Maty Mauk will likely take over, based on his strong relief work last year when Franklin was injured. The quartet sits atop the school’s career total offense list, and each is among the top five in passing yardage. The Tigers haven’t yet reached the same level as BYU did from 1973-99 — when it cranked out the likes of Steve Young, Jim McMahon and Ty Detmer — but they are on quite a run.
Pinkel and his staff look for the usual things when assessing a quarterback prospect. Arm strength, accuracy and superior athletic ability are vital. But Pinkel has a more nebulous characteristic in mind when he focuses on someone who could run his offense some day.
“For me, I have to get a good feeling that the quarterback has the ‘It’ factor, that this guy is special and is a great competitor,” Pinkel says. “We look for mentally and physically tough kids who are tenacious competitors.”
Pinkel’s quarterback lineage goes back well before his time at Missouri. While an assistant to his college coach, Don James, at Washington from 1979-90, Pinkel helped develop Husky standouts Steve Pelluer, Chris Chandler and Cary Conklin, all of whom spent at least five years in the NFL. “And every one of our quarterbacks at Toledo was all-conference,” he says.
When Pinkel left Toledo in November 2000 to take the job in Columbia, he was recruiting Smith, a dual-threat passer from Youngstown, Ohio, whom he convinced to follow him to Missouri. Okay, so David Yost really sold Smith on becoming a Tiger. No story about the Mizzou quarterback lineage can be told without Yost, who is now an inside receivers coach at Washington State. The shaggy-haired offensive savant created schemes that fit his team’s talent and pressured defenses from a variety of formations and strategic approaches. Pinkel delegated a lot of day-to-day control to his assistants, and Yost used that authority to build an attack that showcased the Missouri passers.
“David Yost was the biggest part of it,” Smith says. “I was with him every day, installing the offense and working on fundamentals and techniques. Coach Yost molded guys. He was passionate and spent countless hours on the offense to find ways to help players get better. He was very smart, and guys respected him.”
The excitement began almost immediately. In 2002, his redshirt freshman season, Smith became the second player in Division I-A history to throw for 2,000 yards (2,333) and run for 1,000 (1,029), a performance he would repeat in 2005 (2,304/1,301).
Pinkel’s first few seasons featured a more conventional attack, but by the time Smith was a senior, Yost had spread things out, put the QB in the shotgun and reaped the benefits. Mizzou went 7–5 and topped South Carolina in the Independence Bowl. Missouri won at least eight games in each of its next six seasons — the longest such streak in program history — and hit double figures in wins three times.
“It’s a really good offense,” Smith says. “It forces the defense to do more of what you want it to do.”
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Daniel was next in line, and he didn’t have the running ability Smith did, gaining fewer yards on the ground in his career (970) than Smith did in three of his four seasons as a starter. But Daniel could sling it. He topped 4,300 yards through the air twice and helped the Tigers to a pair of Big 12 North championships. Daniel thrived in the wide-open system that took advantage of his ability to make quick decisions and deliver the ball on time.
“The mental side of the game is so difficult, and exciting,” Pinkel says. “Understanding the complexities of the defense requires constant training.”
Gabbert followed by throwing for at least 3,000 yards during both of his seasons as a starter. Then, it was Franklin’s turn. During his four campaigns — three as a starter — he completed 62.1 percent of his throws and finished third on the school’s all-time yardage list. “I felt really good as a senior, and I knew the offense really well,” Franklin says. “I understood it.”
Next up is Mauk, an aggressive bomber with a strong arm and little fear. It’s a good bet he’ll be the next Missouri quarterbacking standout and help fuel the brand that Pinkel now sells. Different schools have been known for developing successful players at various positions, and as Mizzou continues to be what Pinkel calls “a destination job,” he and his staff will herald their ability to produce outstanding passers.
“There is no question we sell it,” Pinkel says. “We evaluate well, and we do an excellent job of player development. Everybody does it, but we do it better than most.”
James Franklin can attest to that.
Maty Mauk: Next In Line as Missouri’s Next Standout QB
When Missouri starting quarterback James Franklin suffered a shoulder separation against Georgia last October, Tiger fans had to wonder whether Maty Mauk was going to handle the assignment of stepping in.
Earlier in the year, the redshirt freshman had been sacked twice in the Tigers’ win over Toledo and admittedly “wasn’t being me.” So, Mauk stopped “stressing” himself and pretended he was in high school all over again, when it was five wide and let it fly.
The results were encouraging. Mauk helped the Tigers extend their 28–26 fourth-quarter lead to a 41–26 triumph over the seventh-ranked Bulldogs. “It felt like high school again,” Mauk says. “After that, it was amazing how much the game slowed down.”
Mauk started the next four contests for Mizzou and posted a 3–1 record that included a tough overtime loss to South Carolina. Though his completion percentage (51.1) didn’t sparkle, he demonstrated the ability to get the ball downfield and played with a fearlessness not usually associated with a first-time starter.
“He really likes to make plays and sling the ball around,” Franklin says. “Even if he makes a mistake, he’ll come back and take a chance the next time. He’s not afraid.”
The Kenton, Ohio, native chose Missouri because of the family atmosphere he experienced on his visit. “Coach (Gary) Pinkel is like a second dad,” he says. His brother, Ben, was a quarterback at Wake Forest and Cincinnati, so Mauk has a good pedigree. Now, it’s about becoming a full-time starter at a school where quarterbacks are expected to stand out.
“I’m a playmaker,” Mauk says. “That’s why I’m here.”
Written by Michael Bradley (@DailyHombre) for Athlon Sports. This article appeared in Athlon Sports' 2014 SEC Football Preview Editions. Visit our online store to order your copy to get more in-depth analysis on the 2014 season.