HEBER CITY — In the presence of family and friends in his hometown gymnasium Wednesday afternoon, Wasatch High School senior Talem Franco signed his national letter of intent to run track for Brigham Young University.
The speedster, who also ran in selected cross country events and excelled as an all-conference football player for the Wasps, is expected to compete in the 800-meter run, his signature event, for the Cougars once he is enrolled full time after completing a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Even though the public ceremony took place on a chilly Feb. 13 afternoon, Franco actually signed his commitment letter last week.
He started believing a couple of summers ago that he might one day have such an opportunity.
“I went to some summer track camps at BYU,” Franco said. “I did OK at the first one after my sophomore year, but recorded some really great times last summer after my junior year. That’s when I knew there might be a chance for me there.”
The four-year letterman for the Wasp track team actually had the chance to go to many schools. He was highly recruited in state and received offers from schools as far away as Columbia in New York and about half that far away at Iowa State.
According to his father, Leno Franco, several of the offering schools marveled at the fact that Talem was not a full-time runner, choosing instead to play football in the late summer and fall instead of dedicating himself to cross country. He said they saw that as a positive, demonstrating his toughness and versatility.
Franco had an excellent high school career on the gridiron and had conversations with a few schools about playing football. However, Franco said he knew in his heart that running track was his future. Tapping himself on his chest he said, “With this frame (referring to his 5-foot-9, 163-pound body), I pretty much knew that track was going to be it for me.”
Despite getting attention from SUU, Utah State, Weber State, and others, Franco was stayed in close contact with BYU head track coach Mark Robison, preferring BYU to the others.
“They knew who I was and just seriously looked into me after last summer’s camp, I guess,” Talem said. “I’ve worked really hard on my strength and conditioning and my times keep improving, so ... it’s a perfect fit I think.”
Franco’s father reiterated that by saying, ”Talem’s first question for them (BYU) was, 'How are you going to make me better?’ Talem has always been one to work hard at improving, and I think their coaches were impressed by that.”
Franco’s improvement has been evident in the 800-meter times he’s recorded at the last two 3A championship meets. In 2011, Franco finished seventh in the 3A event with a time of 1:59.88, and in 2012 he finished second with a time of 1:54.0. That’s nearly a six-second improvement made in one year, and it is 15 seconds faster than the best time from his freshman year.
Wasatch head track coach Brad Foster said he is excited about what his star can do this spring.
“The best thing I can say about Talem is that beyond his natural gifts, his work ethic is unbelievable,” said Foster. “I can work him out as hard as I think he can go, and he’ll come back and ask for more.”
Foster, who has had Franco in his program all four years, said he believes Talem has what it takes to be successful at the next level.
“Without a doubt,” the coach said. “His maturity and leadership alone are fantastic. He wants to put a (state championship) banner up at Wasatch as badly as I do. He is a total team guy. I expect great things from Talem — not just this year here, but during his years at BYU.”
Franco said he has a plate full of goals for the next few years.
“I’d like to get a sub-50 time in the 800 meter. I think I can do that.” he said confidently. “Then after my mission, I plan to run four years and graduate from BYU."
The senior, who plans to major in medicine, added the Olympics to his list. “Oh definitely,” he said. “The timing should work out just right for the 2020 games. It’ll be a lot of work, but I think I can get there.”
Kenny Bristow is a contributor to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org