Trusting the process

Rookie running back Jarvion Franklin wasn't drafted, but he's still come a long way from enrolling at Western Michigan as an 18-year old freshman to potentially becoming a member of the Steelers' backfield.

"My first training camp in college, I'm asking myself, 'Can I do this for the next four years of my life?,'" Franklin recalled this week. "It was that tough just waking up every morning, football, going to sleep at 11 (p.m.), waking up at 5 (a.m.) again, it was a grind."

Franklin, 6-foot and 239 pounds, emerged four years later having rushed for 4,867 yards, the fifth-highest total in Mid-American Conference history and the 33rd all-time best figure in FBS annals.

He's also one of nine players from Western Michigan's 13-1 team in 2016 that have either made it to the NFL or earned the chance to crack an NFL roster this season.

That group includes Steelers outside linebacker Keion Adams, a seventh-round pick in 2017, and Steelers offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor, a third-round pick in April.

Wide receiver Corey Davis (who was picked fifth overall by Tennessee in 2017), offensive tackle Taylor Moton (a second-round pick by Carolina in 2017) and cornerback Darius Phillips (fifth round, Cincinnati, 2018) are also members of that fraternity.

"Elite players," Franklin assessed. "We all brought that ought of each other, we all competed. Me and Asantay (Brown, who signed with the Eagles as a free agent after this year's draft), he was a big safety so I ran into him a lot. We were competing together, lifted together, pushing each other.

"Being around those guys, they really taught me how to work, how to embrace the process. They taught me how to hold on to one another when things get tough. We started low but we ended up being in a better place than when we got there.

"Coming here, I'm kinda trying to do the same thing. I'm just going to come here and play my role. Whenever the coach calls on me and I get a few reps in practice, I'm going to make sure I deliver on each and every last one of them and just really start at the bottom and by the time I leave this place, hopefully everyone will know who I am."

Franklin has already noticed a few familiar faces at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex.

There's former teammates Adams and Okorafor (his roommate for three years at Western Michigan).

And there's outside linebacker T.J. Watt, whose Wisconsin Badgers beat Franklin and the Broncos in the Cotton Bowl, 24-16, at the conclusion of that magical 2016 season.

"I haven't talked to him about it yet but every time I look at him I'm like, 'man, bittersweet,'" Franklin said. "Me and him had a couple run-ins. He got the best of me, but that was then. Right now we're competing with each other so I'm excited to be here."

Franklin has brought Western Michigan's "Row the Boat" mentality with him to OTAs.

Former head coach P.J. Fleck, now the head coach at the University of Minnesota, used the slogan to create a culture on the way from Kalamazoo, Mich., to a 13-0 regular season and a Cotton Bowl matchup with Wisconsin.

"That was kind of something special to me because it kind of showed me just to trust the process," Franklin explained on Wednesday. "That's kinda what the whole row-the-boat thing is talking about. You're learning from your past, facing the back, and you're rowing in the present, doing everything you can do right now to get to where you want to get in the future. That's what I'm doing right now, I'm just rowing. I'm out here every day, learning from my past.

"I made a couple mistakes yesterday, but guess what? Today I learned from my past so I didn't make those mistakes again. And now, hopefully, tomorrow's going to be a better day."

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