TORONTO â€” Orlando Franklin has made it big in the NFL, but he hasn’t forgotten his Toronto football roots.
The Los Angeles Chargers hulking offensive guard has reached an agreement in principle to purchase the Scarborough Minor Football Association. It’s the same program Franklin participated in as a youth before moving to Florida and playing high school football in Delray Beach.
“At the end of the day I believe I can make a difference for these kids, that’s my biggest reason,” the six-foot-six, 315-pound Franklin said Tuesday after a news conference formally announcing the move. “I’m happy just being able to give back to an organization that’s played a pivotal role in my life.
“I’m really excited to help out these kids, trying to be around for their day-to-day life and help them grow as young people while they’re on their transition to adulthood.”
Franklin, 29, went on to play collegiately at Miami before being selected in the second round, 46th overall, by Denver in the 2011 NFL draft. Franklin cracked the Broncos’ starting lineup as a rookie and played four seasons there â€” including in Super Bowl XLVIII â€” before signing a five-year, US$36.5-million deal with the Chargers as a free agent.
Franklin was three years old when he, his mother and brother arrived in Canada from Kingston, Jamaica. At age 12 he was arrested for robbery, then three years later for robbery and possessing a stolen car.
Franklin credits football â€” and his time at the Scarborough Association â€” with changing his life.
“This place (SMFA) was the only place I was allowed to go to at one point,” Franklin said. “When I had got into trouble at a younger age my mom wouldn’t really let me outside but she’d let me go to football practice.
“She knew exactly how long football practice was and I basically had a three-hour window to be allowed out. Football has taught me to be a reliable person, it has put a lot of structure into my life and opened a lot of doors for me. I don’t know what my life would be like without football.”
Franklin’s vision for the Scarborough Association includes purchasing land to accommodate an indoor training facility that would include an indoor turf field, library, basketball court, classrooms and pool table.
“What I’d like to do is provide a safe haven for these kids,” he said. “I want them to understand they don’t have to become a product of their environment, they don’t have to do what their friends want to do.
“Through football, they’re able to basically go to a safe place free of charge and maybe learn about lifting weights or just come over and play some ping-pong or pool or get some tutoring for a class they’re struggling in. I want these kids to come out of the facility every day feeling like a better person, that’s what I’m interested in.”
Franklin plans to put his money where his mouth is and contribute financially to the program. He also wants to use his status as a pro athlete to help attract sponsors.
He also expects to be a hands-on owner.
“I’m in Toronto for about three-and-a-half, four months a year and I’m definitely going to be hands-on,” he said. ” My name is going to be on it at the end of the day so I’ve got to make sure I’m there.
“I will contribute financially. It’s a great idea and I think people would be foolish not to get behind something like this.”
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press