His whole life, Zach Franklin has been told what he can’t do on a football field.
Division I programs couldn’t be bothered to watch Franklin’s film when he was a senior receiver at Northwest High in 2012, then pro scouts knocked him for the competition level he faced after a standout career at Division II Washburn.
“There have always been people who have doubted what I could do, but I just keep proving them wrong,” Franklin said. “Only you know what you can do. Only you know the amount of time you’ve put in and what you’re capable of. It’s all just football in the end, no matter where you come from. If you work, then it will show.”
Franklin said a dream came true over the weekend when the San Francisco 49ers called and offered him a contract to attend a rookie camp after he went undrafted in the NFL Draft. Franklin hoped he might hear his name called in the sixth or seventh round and was disappointed when it wasn’t.
Not even 15 minutes after Mr. Irrelevant was announced, Franklin’s agent called him with the 49ers’ offer.
“It was such an amazing feeling,” Franklin said. “I can’t even explain it. From when I was a little kid, I would tell everybody, ‘I’m going to the league.’ They just laughed, but when I said it, I meant it. I kept working hard toward that dream and to see all of the sacrifices pay off, it’s an amazing feeling to finally get this opportunity.”
Franklin will fly to San Francisco on Thursday to participate in a rookie mini-camp this weekend. He will then return to Wichita, train and prepare for the 49ers’ training camp this summe at the end of the summer.
Undrafted rookies are typically signed with their ceiling capped at becoming a practice squad player. That’s not where Franklin sees his ceiling.
“I’m not going there to be a practice player, I’m going there to take somebody’s job,” Franklin said. “People have always told me I couldn’t play at that level, but no matter where I’ve gone, I’ve always been at the top. I don’t plan on anything changing when I go there. I want to play on Sundays.”
Franklin hopes to catch on initially as a special-teams player before seeing the field as a cornerback.
Weston Schartz, who coached Franklin at Northwest and is now the West coach, wouldn’t be surprised if Franklin keeps surprising.
“I’m absolutely thrilled for him because this was always one of his goals,” Schartz said. “He’s always made the best out of his situation. Every goal that is put in front of him, he has been able to accomplish it. So don’t be surprised if he doesn’t hook on and is able to do some things.”
Schartz and Franklin both agree Franklin has made it this far because of Franklin’s work ethic.
“If you tell him to be there at 10 o’cock, he’s going to be there at 9:30 ready to go,” Schartz said. “If you tell him the weight room is open until 10, he’s going to try to find a way to stay there until 11.”
“Football won’t give you anything that you don’t work for,” Franklin said. “You’ve got to fall in love with the process and I really take pride in that. When you step on the field, I can always tell when the other guy hasn’t been conditioning all summer or hasn’t been in the weight room. I feel like I have an advantage when I step on the field because I know I worked harder than you and that’s why I’m going to beat you every play.”
Franklin graduated from Washburn in December 2016 with a degree in legal studies and a minor in criminal justice.