The smallest man on the field has been making a big impact for the Akron Zips this season.

The smallest man on the field has been making a big impact for the Akron Zips this season.

Fransohn Bickley, an Akron native and St. Vincent-St. Mary product, has moved into the starting lineup thanks to his speed and versatility, which have made him a threat both on offense and special teams. Through the first half of the season, he is the Zips' leading kick returner and second-leading receiver.

Standing just 5-foot-7 and weighing 135 pounds, Bickley doesn't look like a typical Division I prospect. Even as one of the stars of St. V-M's state championship team last season, he was not heavily recruited by other Division I schools.

"Really, no one gave me a shot but Akron and I'm trying to take that and make it work in my favor," Bickley said.

His speed on the edge is another asset Bickley uses in his favor, but the margin between his quickness and that of his opponents is smaller than it was in high school and it didn't take long for that realization to set in.

"I was actually really surprised when I got here and I went back to my high school and told them, 'College speed is a lot different than high school speed,'" Bickley recalled.


Hearing that he isn't big enough is not a novel concept for Bickley. It's the same message he's heard since he was young and the constant reminders that he's not the tallest or biggest have helped motivate him as a player.

"Even in high school, I still got that a lot," Bickley said. "People thought I couldn't play college football, but I'm playing Division I football and I'm trying to make them see that I can do it."

In developing his game, Bickley has tried to pattern himself after two of his favorite players: Philadelphia Eagles deep threat DeSean Jackson and St. Louis Rams rookie receiver Tavon Austin. Both players are small, quick receivers who create chances using their quickness and also contribute in the return game.

"They're my favorite players, so I try to watch their highlights and pick up what they've got," he said.


While others might see his height as a disadvantage, Bickley has done his best to turn it into a positive. Whether lining up outside and catching a screen pass or taking a handoff, he tries to stay low and hide behind his blockers, making it virtually impossible for would-be tacklers to find him.

Head coach Terry Bowden has shown confidence in Bickley's ability to step in and contribute immediately, giving him a starting spot and turning to the freshman as a downfield receiving threat more and more as the season wears on. Bickley admitted that he didn't expect such a large role as  a freshman, but he has been absorbing lessons from his fellow receivers and coaches to bolster his progress.

It's a role Bickley is still adjusting to and he admitted that making the transition to college has been an eye-opening experience for him.

"At first, I was completely lost. I didn't know what I was doing probably the first two weeks of camp," Bickley said of adjusting to Bowden's offensive scheme. "But I've just kept learning and learning and now I know a lot more."

With a wide-open, pass-heavy offense and UA finding itself in high-scoring games on a regular basis, the Zips need as many weapons as possible to keep pace. Bickley hopes to be a large part of that equation, no matter what the tape measure says.

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