COLUMBIA, Mo. • To witness the spectacle of battered Mizzou quarterback James Franklin wincing and struggling to speak after losses at Arizona State and Baylor last season was to understand what might not be apparent from his kind, even sweet, demeanor.
"Anybody that questions James Franklin's toughness, they have to have been in a coma the last two years," MU coach Gary Pinkel said Monday. "He's one of the toughest athletes I've ever been around."
That statement appeared to represent evolving thinking from Pinkel, who seemed to question just that Saturday after Mizzou's 24-20 victory over Arizona State as he explained the junior's decision not to take a cortisone injection that would have enabled him to play through an inflammation in his right throwing shoulder he had suffered against Georgia.
"It was too painful for him," Pinkel said then, "and he didn't want to play."
Pinkel's words at the time more likely reflected frustration with Franklin's philosophical approach to the matter than any questioning of Franklin's guts.
At least that's how it was taken by Franklin, who said he expects to return Saturday at No. 7 South Carolina.
"I know he didn't mean anything by it," said Franklin, who had been considered a game-time decision and attempted to warm up Saturday but ultimately gave way for redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser.
Smiling as nearly always, Franklin described the pain he felt as "like a 10-inch size bumble bee stabbing in there" but said he considers himself a 9 out of 10 to be ready this week. He is to be evaluated for an update this morning.
As for the Arizona State game, Franklin said he was torn in some ways about what to do as it became apparent late in the week that the injury incurred when his arm was yanked by Georgia's Jarvis Jones was inhibiting his ability to throw.
"I wish I would have felt like (it did) right after it happened: It hurt pretty good, but it didn't hurt enough to where I couldn't put something on the throw," said Franklin, who remained in the game and said last Monday he felt fine only for it to deteriorate as Saturday approached and impinge his ability to follow through. "No matter how much I tried to fight through it, it just felt like I couldn't."
Then the question became whether he would accept an injection to mask the pain. But there was no real question for Franklin, who had declined one for his knee last year at Texas A&M, then threw for 198 yards and ran for 97, including a highlight-reel 20-yard touchdown that left defenders littered all over the field.
"I like to feel the pain," said Franklin, meaning he wants to know his true boundary. "I like to kind of be my own judge of it, because I don't want to kind of just numb it and then possibly hurt it more ...…and then next thing I know I won't be able to play for a couple more weeks."
Franklin is keenly aware that his stance might be uncommon, but he's never been afraid to go against the grain.
"I see it a little bit as, like, I don't like to drink, and a lot of people drink," he said. "And I don't like to cuss, and a lot of people cuss ...…Nothing against it, I just don't like to do it."
That notion was fostered by his family.
On Saturday after the game, Franklin's father, Willie, told the Post-Dispatch's Bryan Burwell, "He's never even taken an aspirin once in his life. In our family, we don't believe in taking medication or trying to soften anything with any drugs."
While his father is an evangelist and motivational speaker, the son said this ideology isn't related to or based on religion.
"It's more like a personal choice," he said, "I want to feel every second of (pain) to make sure I know far it can go and how far it can't."
Still, Franklin did acknowledge taking pain-killing pills in the hospital after he had major surgery on the same shoulder in the spring.
"My mom said I was calling them white Tic Tacs," he said, adding that he stopped taking them shortly after the surgery despite worries it was going to hurt "really bad. It actually didn't hurt at all, and so I was really thankful for that."
Smiling, he added, "So, they must have really drugged me up during the surgery so it lasted longer."
Despite his convictions about it being the right thing to do, Franklin was concerned about how his teammates would receive his decision and made it a point to speak with a number of them beforehand as he was "making sure they were OK with me and weren't upset with me."
He came away feeling supported by teammates, and senior receiver T.J. Moe said the decision was well-respected in the locker room.
"He probably worries about other people's thoughts more than he should," MU offensive coordinator David Yost said. "I tried to let him know Thursday when we talked, I said, 'That's your call on the shot. I don't expect that you're going to take it. I think you'll play if you're able to play.'
"'And if you're not able to play, I think you'll do the right thing for your team to not put them in a bad position where you're out there trying to do things that you can't do for us.' "
Yost added that it didn't bother him "one bit" because he knew where Franklin stood on the matter and knows how much pain he's played in before.
"He really helped out and made me feel a little more comfortable about it," Franklin said.
And perhaps Pinkel's words Monday did, too.