Franklin first removed his shoe as a 10th grader at Arlington Heights. "I was working out with a shoe and was kicking about 40 yards and I don't know why I did it, I just said, 'Well, I'm going to take my shoe off and see what happens.' Right away I started hitting the ball 50 yards and making the kicks. I stayed with that, wearing a sock, all through high school.
"I wore the sock because I thought it'd sting or my foot would get real cold on a cold day. Then when I came down to A&M it rained for about a week and a half straight, every day, and I got sick of changing socks. One day I said, 'To heck with this.' I took the sock off and started kicking without it and I've been kicking like that ever since. People ask me if I have calluses and all that junk, and I don't. The skin is just as soft on my right foot as it is on my left.
"I like it a lot better because on that slick AstroTurf I was slipping a little bit. Every time I'd take my first step I'd slip, and it would throw me off balance. Ever since I took the sock off I don't have that problem."
So far the foot has not been stepped on, bitten or otherwise harmed, even though Franklin, as the safety on kickoffs, does make an occasional tackle. He does not do the punting because the Aggies have sophomore David Appleby, who has a 43.7 average. But Franklin insists he will be able to punt in the pros and points out that he had a 40-yard average in high school.
NFL rules will oblige Franklin to wear at least a sock (shoes are not required), but he intends to wear a shoe anyway because placekicking tees are banned in the pros, and he will have to kick balls placed on the turf. If he wore just a sock he could stub or break a toe.
All the college kickers will need to make adjustments when they reach the pros. Without the placekicking tee, they will lose between 10 and 15 yards on their kicks. "It's just like hitting a golf ball," says Kansas City Chiefs Scout Tommy O'Boyle. "You can hit it a lot farther off a tee than off the ground." They also will be aiming at a smaller target. College goal-posts are 23'4" wide (they were widened about five feet in 1959), while in the NFL they are only 18'6" apart. Then, too, pro linemen are taller on the average than college linemen. Erxleben, along with all the other straight-ahead kickers, will not be able to tie up his toe or wear a square-toed shoe.
Probably the most important rule difference, however, is that in the NFL, after a failed field-goal attempt, the ball goes back to the line of scrimmage, thus discouraging long tries until the final seconds of a game. In college the ball comes out to the 20, and thus missed 60-yarders are the same as long punts—with the exception of coffin corner kicks. There is some sentiment, especially among college coaches who don't have a long-range kicker, to adopt the pro rule. Juniors Erxleben and Franklin are understandably against it, but Little is for it, perhaps because he will be in the pros next season.
There is also a Southwest Conference rule—or policy—that seems to give the kickers an edge. Some rivals would have you believe that they are kicking balls as plump as watermelons, fat balls that recall the day in 1899 when the legendary Pat O'Dea of Wisconsin drop-kicked a 62-yard field goal. These rivals claim kickers in most other leagues have to use the regular game ball that passers prefer. Indeed, the SWC does allow kickers to use a marginally fatter broken-in ball, but it has to be inspected before the game just like the regular ball and may not exceed an inflated pressure of 13� pounds, a weight of 15 ounces and a circumference at the fattest part of 21� inches. Both Little and Erxleben prefer to kick the broken-in ball.
"Because it's been roughed up, the ball gives you a better 'grip' when you hit it," says Erxleben. "The managers put the ball into the game on kicks. They goofed it up once. I turned back to the ref and I said, 'Hey, that isn't the ball I want to kick.' And he said, 'Oh, I've seen you kick. You can make it with anything.' It was a 44-yarder. I'm not blaming the ball, but I missed it. It might have affected my concentration, but really there's no excuse on something that short."
That short? Well, maybe Erxleben is right. Fans in the Southwest may be getting a bit jaded. "The last few weeks I have seen Little, then Franklin, then Erxleben, then Erxleben and Little," said the
Arkansas Gazette's Jim Bailey recently. "Anything short of 50 yards and I just don't pay any attention. Those are like extra points."