Aubrayo Franklin is enjoying a career resurgence in his 11th NFL season.
The former Science Hill High School and University of Tennessee star has started all four games at nose tackle for the Indianpolis Colts this season. Heading into today’s game against the undefeated Seattle Seahawks, the 6-foot-1, 315-pound nose tackle has nine tackles, easily on pace to beat his total each of the past two seasons.
It comes as no surprise that the Colts have been the perfect fit for Franklin after one-year stints in New Orleans and San Diego. At Indianapolis, the 33-year-old Franklin is reunited with defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and is playing alongside defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois, with whom he enjoyed his best career seasons in San Francisco.
“The main thing is being back with coach Manusky and being back in a familiar defense,” Franklin said. “Playing alongside Ricky, he has come along and has come into his own. He’s developed into a great pro. It’s just chemistry and being so comfortable in this defense. I know the ins and outs of it where I played in it for four years.”
It’s nice for Franklin to have some familiarity after living as an NFL nomad. The Colts are his fourth different team in the last four years.
Still, the persistence has paid off for Franklin, who has played one more season and 24 more games in the NFL than fellow Science Hill legend Steve Spurrier did.
Picked in the fifth round of the 2003 draft, Franklin was part of the vaunted Baltimore Ravens defense for four seasons. He then spent the next four seasons in San Francisco, where the 49ers named him their franchise player in 2010. In those four seasons, Franklin had 147 tackles, three sacks and a rare interception for a defensive tackle.
Understandably, he was plenty motivated to do well against his former team two weeks ago. An inspired effort saw Franklin record three tackles against the 49ers in a 27-7 Colts victory.
“Emotionally, it was really big. I still have some good friends and coaches out there that I’m real close with,” he said. “But the main thing was we went out there on the West Coast and beat a good team. It was just a great win knowing we played somebody at that competition level. They’re a great team, were in the Super Bowl last year. We’re looking at getting another W against a good West Coast team this week.”
Winning is the goal every week in Indianapolis, where Franklin enjoys a good relationship with Chuck Pagano, one of the most respected head coaches in the league. Franklin came to the Colts with a good recommendation from John Pagano, the head coach’s brother and Franklin’s defensive coordinator in San Diego last season.
“He has to wear more hats than his brother and everything is more magnified with his position,” Franklin said of Chuck Pagano. “But he’s a great coach, and I like how he leads us. The players have caught on to what he’s trying to preach, how he teaches us to take one game at a time. His brother was fun to be around too, and I enjoyed playing for him also.”
Long before his days in the NFL, Franklin played in the youth leagues in Johnson City. His father, Wayne, who was a senior end on ETSU’s first team to play in the Dome, was a big influence in those formative years and instilled a strong work ethic.
Later on, Aubrayo starred at the old Memorial Stadium for Science Hill. He was an all-state linebacker his senior season of 1998 with 12 sacks and 180 tackles. One game from his high school career still stands out, the Hilltoppers’ first-round playoff win over Clinton. They rallied from a halftime deficit to ultimately pull out a double-overtime victory.
“We were down, but we came back the second half,” Franklin recalled. “I switched from linebacker to defensive end. I had three or four sacks in that game and we came back and won. That was as big game as I can remember.”
He spent two seasons honing his skills at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College before finishing his collegiate career as a defensive tackle at the University of Tennessee.
He had 56 tackles his senior season, including a 10-tackle effort in the Vols’ 18-10 win over South Carolina. However, it was a game when another local star, Jason Witten, made the winning catch in a six-overtime marathon against Arkansas that Franklin most remembers about his UT days.
Franklin shares a camaraderie with the other local players in the NFL, even participating in Witten’s camp in Elizabethton three years ago.
“I like what Jason does with his camp,” Franklin said. “We’ve tried to let these kids know you can accomplish your dreams whether you’re from a small town or a big city. You just have to have those goals. I know when I was coming up, we didn’t have anybody like that putting on a camp or anybody from the area playing in the pros. Now you have so many guys from the area playing in the NFL so it gives those young kids something to strive for.”
Franklin’s experiences in the league have gone well beyond the football field, having lived in locales like San Francisco, New Orleans and San Diego the past few years. Still, Indianapolis feels like a little more like home.
“It’s funny, when I first got my house, I was coming home one night and I saw about four or five deer sitting in my yard,” he said. “I thought, ‘This kind of reminds me of home.’ It’s a great city. The people are great, great fans who really love the Colts. I really enjoy it here and I really enjoy winning. The Colts have been a team which made the playoffs last year, and I think we can take the next step this year.”