Dennis Franks, who played football at Michigan in the early 1970s and then four years in the NFL, including the 1979 season with the Detroit Lions, has died.
Franks, 68, suddenly passed away last Saturday, according to a social media post by Market America Worldwide for which he was executive vice president. He is survived by wife, Nancy, and daughters, Lauren and Katie. There was no cause of death revealed.
He was born in western Pennsylvania in McKeesport, in 1953 and grew up in a suburb of Pittsburgh where he attended Bethel Park High. He played linebacker and offensive guard there. He had a unique introduction to sports. His mother was national figure-skating champion in Germany in 1942 and 1943, and Franks said on the “Grueling Truth Podcast” in an episode of “After the Gridiron,” that he and his brother grew up figure skating.
“It helped with balance and mobility,” Franks said on the podcast of his figure skating background. His other hobby was guitar.
But football was his way to college, and Franks revealed on the podcast that he received 112 scholarship offers because of his participation in track and football. Michigan was not among his final three picks, Franks said on the podcast, until he took a late trip to visit, spending a Monday and Tuesday on campus in 1971. Standing at midfield at Michigan Stadium sealed his decision.
“I walked in, looked around, and it was very impressive,” Franks said on the podcast.
After playing on the Michigan freshman team, Franks was moved to center, a position that was new to him. He experienced much frustration with the change and said he nearly quit the team.
“That transition almost broke me,” he said.
Franks said in the interview that he finally got the “hang of it” and worked his way to second team. He started the second half of his junior season and then all 11 of the 1974 season that went 10-1, including a 12-10 loss to Ohio State. Franks was a first-team All-Big Ten selection that season.
“He’s the best center I’ve been around so far,” late Michigan coach Bo Schembechler said at the time.
Because he was undersized at center at 6-foot-1, 241 pounds, he went undrafted in 1975. He signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles where he played center and on special teams from 1976 to 1978 and then with the Lions in 1979.
Franks was an economic major at Michigan. He began working with Market America in 1992.