Sit down with Dolphins kicker Andrew Franks for five minutes and it becomes instantly clear he is not your ordinary NFL player.
“Biomechanically, you want more lean on the ball to get more height on the ball so you can get more torque through it,” Franks said, explaining his approach to kicking. “F equals ma. Force equals mass times acceleration. The bigger your legs are and the more speed you have, the farther the ball’s going to go.”
Franks knows from physics. He has a biomedical engineering degree from Rensselaer Polytech Institute, one of the most prestigious universities in the nation. He is the first alum from Division III RPI to play in the NFL and hopes his unlikely journey to the Dolphins serves as inspiration to every scholar-athlete who thinks nerds can’t be pro athletes.
He never intended to play professional football. As a high school student in Carmel, California, he dreamed of becoming a doctor but then shifted his focus to biomedical engineering so he could design prosthetic limbs.
“Me, play in the NFL? Yeah, right. That’s funny,” said Franks, in his second season with the Dolphins. “I never imagined this. When I went to RPI I was like, ‘I get to play football and get my degree.’ I’m happy. I never in my wildest dreams thought of the NFL. That was such a far-flung idea. I was like, ‘There’s no way.’ ’’
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But once he started kicking in college and comparing his stats to Football Bowl Subdivision kickers, he realized he was in their league. By his senior season, he was averaging 61.2 yards on kickoffs and had made plenty of 50-yard field goals, proving he had FBS — and possibly NFL — leg strength.
“Of all the positions in football, kicker is one where it really doesn’t matter that much what division you play because it’s the same ball and the same posts,” Franks said. “Still, the NFL was not in my plans. It wasn’t until I met [former RPI quarterback] Michael Hermann at school, and he was the first guy getting serious looks. He went to camp with the Chargers. I was like, ‘Wow, people can go from D-III to the NFL?’ ’’
But he said the real “epiphany moment” was the summer before his junior year, during a chance workout with Canadian Football League kicker Justin Medlock, a journeyman and UCLA graduate who has bounced around among six NFL teams and eight CFL teams. Medlock was visiting Troy, New York, because his girlfriend was playing in a golf tournament there. He reached out to Franks on Facebook and asked if he would be interested in working out with him for a few days on the RPI field.
“I go out there with him and I’m thinking, ‘My kickoffs are going just as far as his,’ ” Franks said. “I’m thinking, ‘He’s way more accurate than I am, but I can work on that. If he can do it, why not me?’ The guy’s really good, an NFL-level kicker, and I’m holding my own against him, and I was like, ‘Maybe the ceiling’s a little higher than I thought it was.’ That was my first glimpse of what could be.”
Franks put together a highlight video and posted it on YouTube, hoping someone would look. Dolphins special teams coach Darren Rizzi did and was so intrigued he booked a flight to Troy to see the kid in person. The moment he heard Franks’ foot strike the ball, he was sold. The conversation over pizza sealed the deal.
“You could tell he was raw, playing at a D-III school, but he had pure power,” Rizzi said. “It’s one of those things when you work out a guy, after a few swings, he’s either got it or he doesn’t. You can tell when he makes contact with the ball, there’s that thump. I also liked his physical stature, and that he’s a weight-room guy. He’s not a quirky kicker. He is a real athlete, and everyone loves him. His ceiling is limitless. He has the talent to kick in this league for a long time.”
Miami signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2015, and he beat out Caleb Sturgis for the job. But being in an NFL locker room took some getting used to for the kid from RPI.
“I had no idea what to expect because I didn’t go to [Alabama],” he said.
“I’ve never felt so small in my life. I just internalized everything, told myself to take it all in. You have no idea how long this is going to last. Tomorrow you may not be here. I’ve always considered myself to be the underdog, that guy no one expects to succeed. I just put my head down and kept working.”
Franks is 13 of 17 on field-goal attempts this season and 26 of 33 over the past two seasons. He has had ups and downs but says “short-term memory” helps him cope.
What about that biomedical engineering degree? “For now, I want to keep that collecting dust in my room somewhere,” he said.
▪ Linebacker Kiko Alonso (hamstring) is not expected to play on Sunday against the Cardinals, barring a miraculous recovery, according to a source. The Dolphins listed Alonso, linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee) and defensive end Mario Williams (ankle) as doubtful.
▪ Cornerback Xavien Howard, who has missed eight games after knee surgery, is among 10 players listed as questionable, most of whom are expected to play on Sunday.
▪ Center Mike Pouncey will miss his fourth game in a row with a hip injury.
Miami Herald sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.