Back in August, before Cal State Fullerton had played its first football game or taken its first trip out of the Pacific time zone, one of the biggest questions for the Titans was how they would replace Rick Calhoun, Fullerton's all-time leading rusher.
Back then, seniors Eric Franklin and Tracey Pierce, who had carried the ball a combined 36 times in their Fullerton careers, were the apparent successors. And on Coach Gene Murphy's depth chart, they were apparently just about even.
But since then, Franklin has made the job his alone, most emphatically in the past four games. In each, he has rushed for more than 100 yards.
This is a guy who had previously carried the ball 11 times as a Titan, who missed the season opener with an ankle injury and who, because of that nagging injury, seldom practices full-speed more than two days a week.
Now, with one game remaining in his career, Franklin has an outside shot at a 1,000-yard season. It would take a 195-yard performance in the Titans' season-finale against Montana Saturday in Santa Ana Stadium, but he is going after it.
"I'd really like to get the 1,000 yards, and it seems like the linemen want me to too," said Franklin, a Santa Ana High School graduate who played much of his prep football at Santa Ana Stadium.
Fact is, the only bad thing about Franklin's success is that, now, the Titans have to replace him. That role likely will fall to Michael Moore, another Fullerton runner who has blossomed in the late part of this season.
Moore, a community-college transfer who has handled kickoff returns this season, has had two breakaway returns in the past two weeks--one a 93-yard touchdown run and the other a 75-yard return that set up a touchdown. He also rushed for 47 yards on six carries in the Titans' loss to Pacific Saturday.
Murphy says that a victory, of course, is Fullerton's first goal Saturday. The Titans (5-6) must beat Montana, a Division I-AA team, in order to avoid a losing season. But the next goal will likely be to give Franklin the opportunity to make a 1,000 yards--and to give receiver Todd White, who has 46 receptions, a chance to reach 50.
Coach George McQuarn already has filled four of the five basketball scholarships available for next season, signing four players to national letters of intent during the one-week early signing period for high school basketball players that ends today.
Wayne Williams, a 6-foot point guard from Manual Arts High School who earlier had made an oral commitment to attend Fullerton, signed last week, joining three others who had signed on the first day of the period.
McQuarn, who says he is "very pleased" with the group, and compares it to the 1983-84 recruiting class of Richard Morton, Henry Turner, Eugene Jackson and Vincent Blow.
The Titans remain interested in Bobby Joyce of Santa Ana High School, who reportedly made an oral commitment to Fresno State, but according to McQuarn, has not signed a letter of intent.
After failing to make the NCAA women's gymnastics national championships last year for the first time in the history of the program, there is a bit of a different feeling to the Titan women's team this year.
A lot of that can be attributed to the number of newcomers to the squad. Of 13 team members, eight are freshmen, including Lisa Dolan, a former U.S. national team member from Waterloo, Iowa. According to Lynn Rogers, Fullerton's 12-year coach, there is "no question" Dolan will become one of the best gymnasts in Titan history.
Together with some changes in the coaching staff, an office move and the re-orientation after finishing below fifth place for the first time ever, this has given Rogers a different perspective.
"I don't feel like the same old thing coming back. It has a different feel," he said.
Injuries to Heather Thomas, Celeste Kwak--and most critically--a career-ending injury to 10-time all-American Tami Elliott helped squelch Fullerton's chances last year.
"I used to feel it would be easy to stay in the top 10," Rogers said. "I felt that if we dropped out of the top 10, I would quit, because I wouldn't be a good coach. Now that I look back, I was pretty naive."