TOWSON, Md. -- How much of an affinity does Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) sophomore offensive lineman Ja'mion Franklin -- the next big thing on the Greyhounds massive run-plowing line -- already have for his in-state Terps?
Well, the strapping 6-foot-3, 305-pounder from Ridgley, in his first year at the Baltimore prep power after beginning his career at North Caroline High School (Ridgely, Md.), opted to spend his 16th birthday on campus last year.
"I love Maryland. Ever since I was a young kid I have loved Maryland," Franklin said. "I went there last year for a game for my birthday, my dad and some friends. I love everything about Maryland from the program and the players and the Big Ten. I know Melvin [Keihn] down there from Gilman, and he just came back to Maryland. It's just a great place to be and that’s who I came up on."
On Sept. 25, Terrapin Times got its first extended look at the emerging right guard as Gilman ran all over Loyola, 49-10, at Loyola to improve to 4-1 and remain in the national Top 25 (No. 23). Gilman has the nation’s 10th-toughest schedule also according to USA Today.
And as for that Gilman line, which much of the Greyhounds’ ground game runs behind Franklin and the right side to the tune of over 200-plus yards per game, Franklin said:
"It's really nice [the success we are having now]. I am thankful to have had a whole bunch of people welcome me in [at Gilman] this year because starting out I did not know the plays. But they welcomed me in, we worked through it, and now we are doing great," Franklin said.
"We have really good chemistry, and [right tackle Stephen] Spanellis is an animal [laugh]. I just love playing next to him," Franklin added. "Our backs are doing a great job, we have two great power backs that run real hard, and I just try my best to clear the way for them."
On Sept. 25, in controlling the line of scrimmage in their fourth consecutive win, Gilman backs Antonio Dupree (178 yards, two touchdowns) and Dorian Maddox (50 yards) were peeling off 12-15 yard carries every series, mostly behind the right side.
Franklin showed not only a good initial step and the power and ability to drive defenders 3-4 yards off the ball, but also quick feet for a man his size in the pulling game. There were countless times he and Spanellis cleared gaping holes for either the Gilman backs or quarterback Kasim Hill (55 yards rushing, two rushing touchdowns, both to right side), with traps and pulls. And on one play late, Franklin jacked a Loyola linebacker some 3-4 yards in the air on a toss to his side, which got the crowd roiling. It sprung yet another Gilman rushing touchdown.
The Greyhounds racked up 461 yards total offense, 200 on the ground in the first half alone. Hill had a few big moments late in the throwing game, connecting on some deep shots. But Gilman’s bread and butter this year is its relentless run game, which has been pounding opponents mercilessly of late.
"Well, we had our second-string quarterback in there [Purnell Hill], who is a sophomore. So I just wanted to make sure he got in," Franklin said of the play he sent a Dons defender skyward.
Said Gilman Coach Biff Poggi afterwards:
“He’s done an unbelievable job. I am really proud of him, and he is doing great in the classroom too,” Poggi said. “He has very good technique, and he is very athletic for a kid that weighs over 300 pounds. He’s got great feet and, you know, he is a really good basketball player, too. He led the county down there in rebounding as a freshman on varsity. He is going to be a great player, he is going to be as good as he wants to be, and he is the nicest kid in the world. But those two sophomores [Franklin and sophomore defensive tackle Taron Vincent], well everybody will be after them.”
Franklin, a specimen when it comes to his remarkably stout yet mobile frame and nimble feet, wants to “continue to work on my feet and my eyes. Get them better. I have been working every day at practice to get my eyes in the right place. My line coach keeps telling me get my eyes in the right place. That, plus make my pulls quicker," Franklin said as he continues to fine-tune his emerging but very promising technical game.
But Franklin is already making a quick impact for the area's No. 2 team, and his athleticism is jumping out as Gilman racks up reams of yardage each week thanks in part to him. Teammate Ellison Jordan, the four-star Gilman defensive tackle, well, his father has already nicknamed Franklin “I-Hop” for the great bounce in his step, and his ability to pancake defenders, a stat he leads the Gilman line in. On the left side of the line, the Greyhounds have Michigan-bound 6-foot-7 tackle Devery Hamilton, who is their best pass-pro blocker.
On the college front, Maryland, Michigan and Purdue were the first big schools in contact with Franklin, with the Terps set to offer this month. Others that pique his interest include Ohio State.
Franklin could be a major-college lineman on either side of the ball, "but right guard I am really liking right now. And leading for my running backs, well I just love that feeling you get."
Franklin said the transition at Gilman “was tough at first, but it is getting better every day. I love being here, it's a great team, and I am part of the Gilman family now."
In the classroom, creative writing stands out for the engaging Franklin among his favorite areas of study. And so far so good as far as Franklin crafting a strong, early narrative for himself.
Franklin will be at the Terps-Michigan game Oct. 3 for an unofficial visit with some of his teammates, including sophomore Terps early offeree Taron Vincent, while he attended a few games last year as a freshman. He has no other college trips planned at this time.
“Maryland, it’s a great feeling,” Franklin said. “And the whole ‘DMV Movement’ going on there now is exiting. I am just a sophomore so don’t know all those guys yet, but I have heard of them and see what they are doing. That is great for the state school with all the state kids committing there.”