Skip to main content

'Dreams are possible and goals are reachable:' Colts LB Zaire Franklin will dispense wisdom – and send blitzes – as guest coach in 2024 Syracuse spring game

Franklin will return to his alma mater, Syracuse, for Saturday's spring game scrimmage. 

Zaire Franklin Syracuse

First things first: Coach Z has a straightforward game plan for the guys he'll coach in Syracuse's spring game on Saturday.

"Defense, we blitz, offense, we throw it deep," grinned Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin. "I hope everybody understand that's what I'm on today."

Franklin this weekend will return to his alma mater, Syracuse, as a guest coach for the Orange's spring game on the invitation of first-year head coach Fran Brown. The seventh-year Colts linebacker is deeply grateful for the four years he spent at Syracuse both on and off the field, and more than calling an engage-eight blitz or four verts, he's eager to give back to the place that gave him so much before entering the NFL.

"I met my best friends there. I met my wife there," Franklin said. "Truly some of the best memories that I've ever had were at Syracuse," Franklin said.

But while Franklin is appreciative of his time at Syracuse, it's not because every moment he had there was positive. He was the program's first three-time team captain since 1896 as leader of the Orange defense – but Syracuse never won more than four games during his time there.

And that's some of the wisdom Franklin can impart on the players in a program that's entering its first year under a new head coach, and has only had two winning seasons since Franklin's final collegiate season of 2017.

"It's no secret around here, I love Syracuse," Franklin said. "But my time at Syracuse wasn't the best. I will honestly say it was the hardest point of my whole football career.

"Now, I'm thankful for it, because I feel like I learned a lot from it. But I want more for them. I want better for them. I feel like it was because the teams I was on at the time, myself included, didn't understand the position that we were in, so I just want to let them know they got all the opportunity in the world and to just believes in themselves and they could go achieve great things.

"... Them losing seasons, they took a lot out of me. But trust me, I learned so much. I learned so much about leadership, I learned so much about consistency, about just being the same guy in the building regardless. Those tough times help prepare you for the good times. I'm always thankful for them. But a new head coach, talent all over the roster, they're a great team, they got a chance to really be something special. I'm just glad I could be a part of it and place some love on their journey."

Franklin has carried those lessons he learned in college into the NFL. He's a four-time Colts team captain and two-time franchise record-holder who worked his way from being an off-the-radar draft prospect to being a seventh-round pick to earning his way on special teams to eventually carving out a spot on defense and earning a coveted second – and a rare third – contract as a pro.

But Franklin's against-the-odds journey didn't happen by accident. And that's another thing he's more than willing to explain to the young members of the Syracuse football team this weekend.

"I mean, you know, everybody loves a story," Franklin said. "But I think at the end of the day they gotta understand what goes into it. There's a lot of decisions that have to be made. I just hope that I could go shed light on the adversity and the perseverance it took for me to get from that point to here, and talk about just taking advantage of their opportunities."

Back in college, Franklin – a three-star recruit – started a bit toward the end of his freshman year, but he began to earn his place in the program during the spring between his freshman and sophomore seasons. He remembers getting in a fight almost every day in practice as he proved to the veteran members of the offensive and defensive line that he was willing to do whatever it took to be a pillar of the team.

In college football, the month or so programs get of spring practices – culminating in a team scrimmage spring game – are often when young players begin to separate themselves. Franklin experienced that as an underclassmen – an opportunity presented itself, and he ran with it.

"Your biggest strides are really made in practice, so spring practice is obviously the biggest thing," Franklin said. "But you never want to underestimate the opportunity to showcase who you are in a game setting. Competing against your teammates, every chance you get to prove yourself on that type of scale is always impactful. So just want to talk to the boys about taking advantage of the opportunity, and a little bit about my journey and what it took for me to get to where I am."

Franklin last year went back to Syracuse to participate in a "How To Not Suck At Money" panel aimed at educating college athletes on how to be smart with their finances. Academics are also important to Franklin, who earned a finance degree from Syracuse and frequently uses his deep knowledge and passion for the subject to give back to the communities he calls home.

Academics are also important to Franklin, who believes in a profound bit of wisdom: "How you do anything is how you do everything."

"I hope them guys are taking advantage of the opportunities but understand that football is here, but football is going to leave at some point, whether that's at college or at the next level," Franklin said. "All this NIL stuff going on, look, make sure you're taking care of your money, make sure you're being smart, put some up for a rainy day. Shiny things are nice but they're only shiny because they're new. Every new thing gets old."

Franklin is entering his seventh season in the NFL, and has come a long way from his freshman year of 2014 at Syracuse. He has plenty of knowledge gained from his experiences over the last decade both on and off the field, and hopes he can make an impact on the players he comes in contact with this weekend.

Whether he's calling an all-out blitz or not.

"You gotta let them boys know that dreams are possible and goals are reachable," Franklin said. "You know, this is what it took for me to get here, I'm giving you the tools to surpass and reach further than I even did."

Related Content

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Single Game Tickets On Sale Now!

Our 2024 schedule is set! Secure your seats to all home games at Lucas Oil Stadium now.