EDMONTON — Derel Walker and James Franklin's instant chemistry has propelled them into starting roles with the Edmonton Eskimos.
Franklin will be the quarterback for Edmonton on Friday against the Toronto Argonauts after impressing Eskimos coaching staff enough in his relief roles through the first eight games. Walker will be one of his favourite targets after being so effective the past few weeks.
The CFL rookies, fresh out of the NCAA's Southeastern Conference, connected over their college roots in the pre-season.
"It's the SEC, he's Texas A&M and I'm University of Missouri," Franklin said when asked where the rapport between the two came from. "I don't know, I just like throwing to him. He's a good receiver. He can get a jump ball, back shoulder, down field, ground ball, he can catch all of them. And he can get open.
"It's nothing we do extra," he added. "It's not like we meet extra or go over things extra. It's just one of those things."
It's at least partly because the two, both 24 years olds who went to the Eskimos mini camp in Florida hoping to get a tryout with the team, have been playing so much pitch and catch while waiting to get playing time.
"We took a lot of reps with each other, starting from the mini camp in Vero Beach," said Walker. "He was throwing me the ball then, we have a good connection, something that develops over time and reps. I guess he trusts me."
Walker, a six-foot-two, 185-pound wide receiver out of Texas A&M, didn't get on the roster until two games back but head coach Chris Jones had to keep him in the lineup for last week's game.
"I come every day ready to work, so I figure something good would come from it eventually," Walker said. "I guess I was in the right spot at the right time."
He got on the roster when No. 1 receiver Adarius Bowman was injured. In two games he has 24 catches for 308 yards, most of those coming on passes from Franklin after he came on in relief of Matt Nichols. Franklin has completed 42 of 67 passes, a 62.7 per cent completion rate, for 533 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception.
Franklin didn't play quarterback until his junior year in high school, largely because he was too big. School rules had weight limits and in Grade 5 Franklin weighed 185 pounds "so I had to play lineman, defensive back… I couldn't touch the ball.
"I was big boned, big stomach, big eyes," the soft-spoken, ever polite Franklin said of his early years. "In sixth grade I went to a church camp and they had this pizza contest. They were pretty big slices. I had 23 and I had six milk shakes."
But he picked up the quarterbacking skills in a hurry. As a college sophomore in 2011, Franklin was named MVP of the Independence Bowl after leading Missouri to a 41-24 victory over North Carolina, accounting for 274 total yards of offence and three touchdowns
He had surgery on his throwing shoulder in 2012, missing half that season, but as a senior in 2013 he led Missouri to victory in the Cotton Bowl.
So being the starting quarterback is nothing new, although it's now in the pro ranks.
"It's a different mindset … coming off the bench versus starting," he agreed. "I have to be smarter, can't always throw deep and things like that. Have to be able to keep the offence on the field, get first downs and move the ball. That's real important and the biggest things is focusing on being a starter and having that mindset."
John Korobanik, The Canadian Press