Ball State basketball coach James Whitford was caught off guard last summer when a maintenance worker at Worthen Arena let him know one of his players was there shooting every morning, sometimes before 6.
That player was Franko House, a rising senior and two-time captain for the Cardinals. House and his fiancee, Morgan Jantzi, had just had a son, Carter, and the new father was rising to feed his son and then going about his business in order to have some downtime after team workouts later in the day.
House now will attempt to make the transition from the hardwood to playing tight end in the NFL after signing with the Bears as an undrafted free agent. Is there a better name for a tight end than Franko House?
He hasn’t played football since he helped Concord High School in Elkhart, Ind., to the 4A state semifinals in 2012. House was an all-state defensive lineman and likely would have had a scholarship offer from Illinois had he made a recruiting visit. Indiana and Michigan State showed interest but backed off when he expressed more interest in basketball. MAC schools encouraged him to play both.
“But he really wanted to play college basketball,” retired Concord coach Tim Dawson said. “I remember he said, ‘I think I’m going to pull an Antonio Gates. I love basketball. I really want to play college basketball, but if I’m not good enough to play at the next level, maybe I will give football a shot.’
“It didn’t surprise me that happened because he had that in the back of his mind and he had an opportunity. I always thought he was a better football player anyway.”
Gates, of course, was a basketball star in the MAC for Kent State before becoming an All-Pro for the Chargers. He was one of the first basketball players to make it big in the NFL, along with Tony Gonzalez. Bears general manager Ryan Pace was in New Orleans when the Saints drafted Jimmy Graham and watched his career take off immediately.
House, 6-foot-6, 248 pounds, finished 11th in scoring (1,371 points) and seventh in rebounds (741) on the Cardinals’ career list. He could have fielded offers to play mid-level professional basketball in Europe, an adventure that likely would have led him to Germany or Belgium. The pay for players at that level ranges from $60,000 to $80,000, meaning House can do better if he can stick on a practice squad in the NFL while he acclimates to football. His frame as a power forward doesn’t set him apart in basketball. With good hands and athletic ability, it gives him a chance as a tight end.
Bears pro scout Jeff King emailed Ball State assistant basketball coach Brian Thornton out of the blue in March during the MAC tournament to find out if House might be interested in trying football. King, a tight end for seven seasons in the NFL, said he had watched plenty of House playing basketball and thought he could make the conversion. King made the trip to Muncie to put House through a private workout on April 14.
House, who graduates Saturday with a degree in general studies and a double minor in coaching and foundations of management, had a spring internship in the Ball State football office, shadowing members of the staff. He got a crash course on football and prepared for the workout.
“It went really well and afterward he told me he was going to try his best to help me out,” House said.
The Bears drafted tight end Adam Shaheen in the second round from Division II Ashland and are really overhauling the position. Shaheen also started his college career playing basketball. Factoring in veteran Dion Sims, who got the second-most guaranteed money from the Bears in free agency, the team has had 18 tight ends on the roster since the beginning of the offseason program in 2016.
Veteran Zach Miller is recovering from a broken right foot and is the team’s best F — or move — tight end. Pace and his staff remain aggressive working to improve the position and House is an interesting prospect behind Shaheen, whom the team is extremely high on.
“He’s got impeccable work ethic and what I told them is if Franko can make it, he will make it,” Whitford said. “His work ethic, his drive and his competitive character are unparalleled. He was the unparalleled leader of all the players. He didn’t always say a lot, but when he did he was like E.F. Hutton. When Franko said something, everyone listened.”
Now, House will be doing the listening as he tries to make a go of it with rookie minicamp set to begin May 12.
“I wish I could be out there already,” he said. “Jeff King sold it to me. He put in my mind I had the opportunity. I know how I am. I have no doubt once I get there I will be fine.”