Eric Franklin and Jerome Junior have stayed in touch since leaving Archbishop Curley High School to play college football. Their families remained friendly as well, so when Junior's father, Jerome Sr., texted Eric's father, Kevin, last Sunday afternoon, it did not come as a surprise.
Yet the message seemed to jump off the screen:
UCONN COACH COMING TO MARYLAND
"I said, 'What?," the elder Franklin recalled.
Junior's father was waiting to leave Arizona, where his son, a starting safety on the Connecticut football team, had played Saturday night in a 48-20 loss to Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
Kevin Franklin immediately called his son, a backup safety for Maryland who had gone to College Park for a team meeting.
In a world where news travels at warp speed, the younger Franklin had already received several tweets from his Terrapin teammates about Randy Edsall's impending arrival. They had been awaiting word about a new coach since Ralph Friedgen's 10-year head coaching career ended at his alma mater with a 51-20 win over East Carolina in the Military Bowl on Dec. 29.
Now the former Curley teammates shared more than a position and their continuing friendship. They shared the uneasy feeling that comes with losing a head coach and the understanding that, soon, both will know what it is like to play for Edsall.
Just as Franklin had seen his seemingly stable college football career shaken by the announcement last month that Friedgen, the ACC coach of the Year, wouldn't return for the 2011 season, Junior now has "no idea" who will be coaching the Huskies next season.
"Hopefully we get a good coach, so we can keep doing what we've been doing," said Junior, a redshirt sophomore who has started all but one game the past two seasons, tying for the team high with four interceptions in 2010.
Edsall's departure came at the end of a tumultuous but groundbreaking season in Storrs, where Connecticut started off with a 20-point defeat to Michigan, lost its first two Big East games, marked the one-year anniversary of teammate Jasper Howard's slaying and wound up winning its last five league games to earn the first Bowl Championship Series invitation in the program's short history as a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
"It was really hard coming into the season. We had a lot of adversity to deal with," said Junior, who suffered a mild concussion at the end of pre-season workouts and had to win back his starting position. "It seemed like we were playing Russian Roulette with quarterbacks, we weren't sure who was going to be there. We had a couple of guys kicked off the team, couple of guys who were arrested. The first year of Jaz's passing. Once we got rid of all the distractions, everything else came into play."
Junior said that Edsall's strong personality and his reputation as a disciplinarian helped keep the Huskies together.
But the celebration was short-lived. The disappointment of losing badly to the Sooners was suddenly overshadowed as Junior and his teammates boarded their team flight in Phoenix and quickly realized that Edsall and his family were not on the plane. Word spread that Edsall was taking the Maryland job, leaving his former players upset that he had not mentioned his intentions in the locker room after the game when star tailback Jordan Todman announced he was going to forego his senior year for the NFL.
"He had a chance to say something when everyone was making their announcements," Junior said Monday.
Junior said that he has already given Franklin a bit of a scouting report on Edsall, who was also Junior's position coach last season.
"They're getting a good coach. He runs everything by the book," Junior said. "I told him (Franklin) to make sure everybody is doing everything the coach tells them. He stays on top of everything: our academics, whether we get an apartment, study hall, things that pop up every day."
As Junior awaits word of Connecticut's next coach, Franklin is finally beginning to relax. According to Curley coach Sean Murphy, Franklin took the news of Friedgen's firing "really hard" because Maryland was the first FBS school to offer him a scholarship. Franklin had also been close to former offensive coordinator James Franklin, who recently left to become head coach at Vanderbilt.
Murphy, who has been the head coach at Curley for 14 years, said that he typically tells his players to pick a school for its academics and campus, not its head coach.
"I don't think the kids always realize, especially on the I-A (FBS) level that it's not like high school where your coach is probably going to be there your entire time," Murphy said Tuesday. "I think it's a little bit of an eye-opener for our kids, just finding that the head coach that they were going to play for is not going to be there."