By Brandy Aguilar
In this week’s Starting the Conversation segment, we head to South Mountain High School to introduce you to a young man named Franklin Johnson.
Franklin is autistic, but that doesn’t keep this high school junior from being successful on and off the football field.
“There are often times I forget he’s autistic because just the way he acts,” said Mark Carter, South Mountain High School co-head coach. “He’s just like any other teenager playing football, having passion and loving what he does.”
Co-head coaches and twins Mark and Marcus Carter couldn’t be prouder of Franklin. He’s a defensive lineman for the school’s junior varsity team.
“I had Coach Mark my first year of high school and he came to one of my meetings and he said I should play football,” Franklin said.
“I wanted him to come out and play because I didn’t want his disability, if you want to call it that, to hinder him for the rest of his life,” Coach Mark said. “So if he can go four years of playing football and get exposed to all these different things, he’s going to be OK in life.”
It’s been two years since Franklin first put on his pads and took to the football field.
“We always have each other’s back,” Franklin said. “If we didn’t have each other’s back, we wouldn’t have it on the field and that would make a bad game.”
“Franklin has become a leader on and off the field,” said Vollon Golden, South Mountain High School defensive line coach. “You see him around school. He’s always happy. Everyone knows who he is now.”
Franklin is definitely more outgoing since joining the football team and he loves joking around with his teammates.
“He’s just a nice person, a genuine, good-hearted person, and believe it or not, I look up to him a lot and he makes me a better leader,” said Devontae Ingram, senior defensive back and wide receiver.
“Franklin means a lot to me,” said T’ziaha Quint, senior left guard and defensive tackle. “He’s a very motivational person and it’s just good to have that much positivity around.”
As for Franklin, it’s about believing in yourself no matter what obstacles are put in front of you.
“If you love something, give it your best and don’t hesitate,” Franklin said.
“So our best thing is to let Franklin be Franklin and when times get rough to be that shoulder or those backs he needs to climb on and help him get through a tough time,” Coach Marcus said.
“People watching should take note and be inspired by this young man,” Coach Mark said. “He has every reason to quit. He has every reason to fail and he has every reason not to be doing the things he does, but he continually does it at a high level.”
Editor’s Note: Since this story was originally shot, the Carter’s became co-head coaches at Desert Edge High School and Vollon Golden joined them to be the Scorpions’ defensive line coach.