Franklin begins life as college freshman

Missy Franklin, who won four gold medals and a bronze in the London Games, now joins Teri McKeever's program at Cal. AP Photo/Ben Margot

BERKELEY -- Teri McKeever sat in the stands during the Big Game at Memorial Stadium last fall, taking a photo of the field for her brother, a Stanford alum, when her phone began buzzing.

The caller ID showed the name "Missy Franklin." McKeever's stomach flipped.

"I thought 'Ugh. I can't deal with this right now,'" the Cal swim coach said. She let the call go to voicemail.

Perhaps the biggest women's swimming recruit in history, on the verge of making her decision about which college she would attend, left a message -- and McKeever was too nervous to hear it.

But then McKeever got a call from associate head coach Kristen Cunnane saying that Franklin, the four-time Olympic gold medalist in London last summer, had questions and needed to talk to her ASAP. The coach left her seat and the stadium to make the call.

"She told me, 'I've made my decision and it was so hard and I'm appreciative of all of your efforts,' and I'm thinking, 'Damn it,'" McKeever said. "She said that people were going to be surprised by her decision, but that she had to go with her heart. And then she says, 'I want to come swim for you.' Then she laughed and said, 'Did I get you?'"

Yes, she did. But more importantly, McKeever got Franklin, the country's brightest female swimming star.

Cal football lost to Stanford 21-3 that day last fall. McKeever might have been the only Golden Bear who had a good day.

Franklin arrived in Berkeley this past weekend, moved into her dorm with a fellow freshman swimmer and has been exploring campus with her new teammates.

Teammates -- the thing she wanted all along.

Franklin said Wednesday that she has always craved the "team" experience, wanted her teammates cheering for her to finish a race at the end of the pool and wanting to do the same for them. During the London Olympics last summer, Franklin watched how the Cal athletes on the U.S. team interacted among themselves and with McKeever -- who was the head coach of the U.S. women's team -- and she wanted to be a part of that.

"I felt like no one else could do team like Cal could," Franklin said.

Three days in and she already feels like a full-fledged Bear. Former Cal stars and fellow Olympians Nathan Adrian and Natalie Coughlin are keeping a watchful eye. Adrian already called to check in on her. While in Barcelona earlier this month, Coughlin gave Franklin her cell phone number and told her to call if she needed anything.

Franklin will compete for two years with the Bears before turning professional and beginning her preparations for the 2016 Games in Rio. Then she will return to Cal to finish her degree.

McKeever said she and Franklin never discussed her future college plans during the Games last summer; the coach felt it would be "inappropriate." McKeever did a home visit with Franklin in Colorado after the Olympics were over. She acknowledged, as she sat in the Franklin living room, that the teenager was giving up a lot by not turning professional and asked her what she wanted from her college experience.

"She said, 'I want to be part of a team. I want to be part of a group of women who have the same goals and aspirations and struggles. I want to meet my future bridesmaids,'" McKeever said. "People laugh when she says that, but she really, truly wants to experience that."

Franklin said she knew from the moment she checked into the famed Claremont Hotel in Berkeley during her recruiting visit with her parents that she was coming to Cal. Whatever suspense McKeever might have been feeling about Franklin's decision, Franklin didn't share it.

"I said to my parents, 'Is it bad that I haven't even been on campus yet and I already know I'm coming here?'" Franklin said. "I knew it in my heart the whole time."

Franklin was relaxed and comfortable Wednesday at a news conference scheduled by the Cal athletic department for the purpose of satiating media interest in the 18-year-old from Colorado, who was the most decorated female swimmer in London last summer. After winning four golds in the Olympics, she followed up with six more, a meet record, at the world championships in Barcelona.

Franklin walked into the news conference with a breezy "Hi, everybody!" She then sat down and asked, "How is everyone?" And one gets the distinct impression that she really wants to know.

Franklin admitted that she "sobbed" and held on to her roommate after saying goodbye to her mother, D.A., yesterday. She has taken a few pictures with on-campus admirers and has had long conversations with both McKeever and her parents about how she will handle being one of the most recognizable faces on campus in a social media universe, where all of her attempts to be a normal college freshman with an active social life will probably be met with a bevy of cell-phone snapshots and Instagram posts.

"This her new normal," McKeever said. "She is a public figure and we want to embrace the idea of Missy being a normal student-athlete on this campus and everything that entails."

Franklin said she is prepared.

"There are so many things we have to consider and think about," Franklin said. "My parents have taught me so well. We've talked to Coach Teri a lot and I think we are very aware of everything that we need to be aware of. I feel very confident. Even though there might be that microscope, I can have as normal of a college experience as I can."

McKeever has talked with local police and campus security, and the program is keeping information such as Franklin's class schedule under wraps for her security, protection for both Franklin and her teammates.

McKeever and the Cal athletic department staff have weeded through the media requests for Franklin. McKeever said no to a photo shoot request from People magazine, which wanted to follow Franklin on her move-in day into the dorms.

McKeever said she would like to put Franklin and her teammates into a "bubble" for now. And she's talking with her entire team about what it means to have a household name like Franklin in their midst. She will begin those conversations tomorrow before hitting the water next week.

"I'm a believer in dealing with the elephant in the room," McKeever said. "And there is an elephant in the room, so we should talk about it; what's awesome about this and what's scary, what can go wrong? We have to walk through this as a group."

In the meantime, Franklin will be sitting in her first college class on Thursday and soaking in the one-of-a-kind scene that is Berkeley.

"This is probably the most unique environment I've ever been in" Franklin said. "There's really nowhere else like it. It's very different from Colorado, for sure, but that's what I love so much about it.

"It feels like home already."