Zaire Franklin New Leader of a New-Look Syracuse Defense for 2015 Season

Sep 3, 2015

SU Football is poised and ready to begin its 2015 season. The team (show here) spent several days training at Fort Drum, learning some military discipline and teamwork.
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  Zaire Franklin fielded the same questions and gave similar responses at both the Atlantic Coast Conference Media Day and Syracuse's opening press conferences.

"I can't believe that I'm here," he told a room full of reporters at ACC Media Day in July. "It's almost surreal that I'm sitting in front of you guys."

Then, at Syracuse's own media day on Aug. 8, Franklin also shared his surprise. 

"Getting my turn to talk to you guys and be in front of camera is definitely surreal ... It still feels a little weird."

On both days, Franklin was one of only two SU players -- the other being fifth-year quarterback Terrel Hunt -- sent to speak to the media. He was also one of just two sophomores present at ACC Media Days. 

Linebacker Zaire Franklin is poised to take on more of a leadership role this season.
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 Franklin is clearly still getting used to playing his part as one of the faces of the Orange. But his coaches say he's earned it, and his teammates seem to agree; Franklin received the most votes when the team chose captains, head coach Scott Shafer said.

On the field, the linebacker will be especially crucial in 2015 as Syracuse looks to make up for the lost production of several defensive starters. Franklin will get his first crack in that role Friday night when SU welcomes Rhode Island to the Carrier Dome. 

In 2014, Franklin came off the bench for the first nine games before starting the final three. He finished with two sacks and five tackles for loss, while his 44 total tackles ranked him sixth on the team and make him the team's leading returning tackler. 

It was at the tail end of last season when the buzz around Franklin began to pick up, with some tabbing him as the future of the Orange. That buzz continued into the offseason and training camp, as Franklin began garnering attention usually reserved just for Hunt and Shafer. 

Shafer said that even though Franklin is only 19 years old, he's well-suited in such a role. 

"It's that 'it' factor that you can't describe as a coach," Shafer said at Syracuse's media day. "And it's that 'it' factor that, you know, you can't develop that or manufacture that. Young men either have it or they don't have it. And he has 'it'."

And while Shafer seemed to be speaking primarily of Franklin's leadership off the field, the linebacker will be just as important of a figure on the field. At middle linebacker, Franklin will serve as the centerpiece of a defense that lost eight starters from last season's team, including Dyshawn Davis, Durell Eskridge and Cameron Lynch.

SU's defense in 2014 allowed only 349.2 yards per game, sixth-best in the ACC and 26th-best in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Despite the numerous players lost to graduation and the National Football League, Franklin said at ACC Media Day that this year's group expects to be even better than last's.

"We want to be the best defense in the ACC, not one of them."

Any attempt at achieving that will require Syracuse, particularly inexperienced in its secondary and defensive line, to lean heavily on its linebackers, especially Franklin.

In preparation for that challenge, Franklin said at ACC Media Day that he spent his offseason mastering the playbook, bettering his footwork and getting stronger. Now, he said, he's ready to take on such a large responsibility.

"This is what I dreamed about," he said. "... I worked for this. And the only reason why I got it is because I worked for it. So I need to continue to work for it, continue to earn it every day."

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