SALT LAKE CITY — Jackson Frank may have found himself living in the shadow of his football-famous dad, John Frank, if the former Ute great hadn’t sent his son a very specific message long before the Olympus senior was good enough on the gridiron to grab headlines of his own.
“A lot of people know me for that,” the quarterback said. “But that doesn’t make me a good football player. It hasn’t been intimidating for me because it’s not a big deal to my dad. He’s always coached me, but he told me I don’t have to live up to his career.”
In fact, the 1999 Mountain West Conference Player of the Year and two-time All-Conference defensive end John Frank reiterated to his son every fall that he didn’t even have to play the sport that took the elder Frank from Skyline to Utah to the NFL draft.
“He told me year after year, I don’t have to play football,” said the 6-foot-2 quarterback, who has led the Titans to a 5-0 record and a No. 13 (statewide) ranking. “He’s always encouraged me to earn a name for myself.”
Sometimes, coaching the child of a local sports standout can be, well, challenging. Olympus coach Aaron Whitehead has had that experience in his long prep coaching career.
“We know his dad is telling him to listen to his coaches because Jackson listens to us,” said Whitehead, who was a high school teammate of John Frank. “He’s unselfish and extremely intelligent. The kids respect him. He’s our true captain.”
John Frank helps the Olympus coaches, just as he’s helped his son, but he defers to Whitehead and his staff.
“John spends a lot of time helping us,” Whitehead said. “Having that set of eyes when we’re breaking down plays has been so great. It’s the perfect storm.”
Whitehead has so much trust in Jackson Frank that he recently did something he can only remember doing one or two other times in his career.
“I told him, ‘You’ve got the keys,’” Whitehead said of turning the duties of play-calling over to the senior during a game. “You can see the defense better than me, so you call the plays. He called two plays after that — a decent run, and then the second play, because of something he saw against the defensive line at Kearns, our running back ran 60 yards for a touchdown. … Jackson is the epitome of a team player.”
If Whitehead had to single out the three-sport athlete's best attributes, it would be his mental toughness and coachable attitude.
“One of his greatest attributes is even though he has a dad with all that success, including NFL experience, he’s so coachable, so even-keeled.”
The situations young players face on Friday night can be overwhelming, even without the high expectations Frank is facing this season.
“With coaches yelling, fans going crazy, he is the calm demeanor in the huddle, and I think it’s paying dividends for us,” Whitehead said. “The team is following his example. … And it’s been a lot of fun.”
Through five games, Frank has thrown for 779 yards and 14 touchdowns. He’s only thrown one interception.
Jackson Frank said that the toughest aspect of being a quarterback is that while he may have personal struggles, he can't show it.
"Trying to be positive all the time," he said. "In games, there are good points and bad points, but I have to stay positive because my team is looking to me and everybody sees it."
As for the most rewarding, he said, being in a position to help his team succeed is what he loves most.
"You feel a little more in command calling the plays, reading the defense and kind of being the main guy," he said. "You have a really big part in how the team does. It's nice to know you're an important part and a key player."
Though he plays basketball and lacrosse, Jackson said football has taught him to love his teammates like brothers in a way other sports just can't.
"There is no other brotherhood, in any other sport, like football," he said. "It's completely different." And this year, he said, the Olympus team has found a deep bond that extends far beyond the field, but is also part of their on-field success.3 comments on this story
"The thing I love most is that we're just the tightest group of guys," Jackson said. "We're a family. We go out on weekends, hang out, spend time together, and we're all just best buddies. I think it's really helped us on the field."
Whitehead said Jackson is still learning and still revealing just how talented he is as a quarterback.
“We had high expectations,” Whitehead said of Frank, who played some defense for the team last year, as well as back-up quarterback. “But he’s been a bright, bright spot.”