Courtesy: Northern Michigan Wildcats
Brian Franks was an all U.P. dream team, all-state and hall-of-fame offensive linemen from Escanaba, Michigan. Brian later became the leader of the NMU offensive line during some of the most prolific running attacks in Wildcat football history, earning him all GLIAC first team and most valuable lineman honors. Brian was a critical senior leader on the 1987 undefeated GLIAC champions and #1 ranked NCAA Division II football team in the nation. He was a truly great football player, leader and teammate.
However, this award has nothing to do with Brian’s athletic accomplishments. In 2009, Brian was first diagnosed with cancer and began a journey of battling this horrible disease. For the next nine years, Brian endured several major surgeries, years of chemotherapy, and countless efforts undergoing experimental procedures and medications to try and hold off the effects of this mysterious and deadly disease.
Throughout this time, as he physically deteriorated, Brian continued to be an amazing father, devoted husband and special friend. He somehow managed to continue to be a highly successful business person, despite the tremendous physical and emotional hardships he faced. And although he had every right to be down, angry, and focused on himself, he was the opposite — always sharing a smile or a joke, upbeat and more concerned about his beautiful wife Ann, his amazing children, Zach, Abby, and Grace, his parents, brothers and even his goofball Wildcat friends, than he was concerned about himself.
Brian was quite simply TOO STRONG to let anything prevent him from being the man he intended to be and to make those around him better by his presence.
On February 21, 2018, Brian left this earth. At his memorial, on a card bearing Brian’s picture with his usual smile, he left us with two quotes that summed up Brian’s attitude toward his 9-year battle:
First quoting the late great NC State Basketball Coach Jim Valvano: “Cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”
And from the late ESPN Announcer, Stuart Scott: “When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer, you beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner which you live.”
This year’s winner of the Brian Franks “Too Strong” Award is volleyball student-athlete Lauren Caprini.
The junior was diagnosed with a rib injury in the winter that doctors warned could be career-ending. The injury made her unable to play in her typical role of defensive specialist and any surgery would be extensive and doctors warned could spell the end of her playing career.
Head coach Mike Lozier and Caprini agreed to move the student-athlete off the court into a mentor role to help other players on the team. While she enjoyed helping in a new capacity, she was not ready to give up her time contributing on the court. “It wore on her,” said Lozier. “She realized how much she missed the game.”
After around two weeks on the sidelines, Lozier and Caprini found a solution. The junior was moved into a serving specialist position which allowed her to continue her career on the court while minimizing the chance of making her injury worse.
“Being back on the team in the serving specialist position was awesome,” said Caprini. “I can’t put into words how thankful I am to my coach for giving me the opportunity to participate in that capacity and also how accepting my teammates were.”
At the end of the season, which began with her thinking her career was over, Caprini contributed two service aces, two digs, and an assist in the 2020-21 GLIAC Tournament Championship match that ended with the Wildcats taking home the title.
“I am so proud that she is able to receive this award and get credit for all the work she did,” concluded Lozier.