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Posted at 01:47 PM ET, 09/15/2011

Maryland’s A.J. Francis talks West Virginia fans, rivalry and exciting offenses


Defensive lineman A.J. Francis, left, and Maryland haven’t beaten West Virginia since 2004. “So we have to pick it up and make it a rivalry,” he said. (Toni L. Sandys - WASHINGTON POST)
Here is some of my conversation with Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis, who shared his thoughts on a variety of subjects, including Saturday’s game against West Virginia:

If you don’t follow Francis on Twitter, you probably should.

Q: How would you describe the intensity of this rivalry?

My entire family is from West Virginia. My grandfather is from Gary, W.Va. He is so far deep into West Virginia that his high school doesn’t even exist anymore. He’s up in the mountains. My great-granddaddy Shaky, nobody knows what his real name is but we call him Shaky. He lives in West Virginia. We are not sure, but we think he is 155 years old. He has an oxygen tank that I think he just carries around for sympathy because there is never any oxygen coming out of it. I am pretty sure he will speak at my funeral. He will outlive everybody. I’ve got a lot of family in West Virginia. So for me personally, having grown up in Maryland and always having to go see them in West Virginia, you want to beat West Virginia just so I can talk to them. It wasn’t fun last year after we lost to West Virginia. Some very unpleasant things were said and done to me last year by those fans, so it’s always good to be able to win a game when neither side really likes each other.

An old lady spit on me last year. Me and Ian Davidson, we were walking out of the tunnel, coming out for the game. She had to be every bit 85 years old. Old lady said, ‘Hey!’ Ian was in front of me. He turns around and bumps me so I turn around. As we both turn around, old lady gives us the finger and spits at us. She is like 85 years old. She was a white lady with short gray hair. She looked like she probably had 15 great-grandkids. She was an old lady, just dressed up casually. I was amazed. I couldn’t believe somebody’s great-grandmother just spit on me. I have been to West Virginia numerous times. They love their football. Anytime we can make them feel bad by beating their team, that always feels good.

Q: Where does your dad have roots?

My dad grew up in West Virginia. He moved to Maryland when he was in high school. Most of his family and my family is from West Virginia. Gary, W.Va., is like an eight-hour drive. It is deep in West Virginia, like 20 minutes from Kentucky. It is a completely different world. My great-grandfather waited in line for two hours at the gas and electric company in his town because his bill went up. We were like: ‘Why did you wait there? Why not just pay the bill?’ He was like, ‘No, it went up too much.’ ‘Shaky, how much did it go up?’ ‘It was $17. It is usually $15.’ I said, ‘$17 for an electric bill.’ Granddaddy Shaky. That’s a smooth cat, he’s an old playa, that’s for sure.

Q: Two new coaches on both sides, how does that affect the rivalry?

It’s no different. They understand what the feeling is like. Anytime you put Maryland across your chest, it is a given that you don’t like West Virginia, you don’t like Duke and you don’t like Virginia. That’s what it is and that’s what it is always going to be. Whether you are a new coach, an old coach, a freshman, a redshirt senior, or a super-senior like Richard Taylor used to be, no matter what you know it’s a rivalry not to be taken lightly.

Q: Maryland’s offense, was that as fast as you have seen it operate? Or have you seen it go even faster in practice?

I remember in spring ball, maybe it just felt faster because we weren’t used to it. I have seen it when we go a period where everybody will get 30, 40 reps in a 10-minute period. And that’s exchanging 1s and 2s. That offense goes fast. You get pretty tired. You get pretty tired. West Virginia’s offense does the same thing. So hopefully we’ll be ready for it. And because they have to go against West Virginia’s offense they’ll be ready for our offense.

Q: Thirty to 40 reps in a 10 minute period, what would be standard for a normal offense in a normal year?

Ten-minute period, last year when we weren’t running a no-huddle probably like 15 to 20 reps depending on whether we had to re-do reps.

Q: Because you are in great condition having to defend that offense in practice, were you fatigued less against Miami?

There was really only one time when I felt tired against Miami, and even then I still played three plays after that. One thing I notice about playing against our offense: You get a second wind a lot faster. I will be tired after about four to five reps in a game, then out of nowhere I will get a second wind and I can play five to six reps. You have to get used to that when you play against a no-huddle team. It’s definitely getting us in shape.

Q: How long did it take for you to get used to that tempo?

I don’t know if I am used to it, fully used to it. We have been going against it in spring and summer camp and three weeks now into the season. You never really get fully used to it, it may take a while. Somebody may have to call somebody at Oregon to ask their defense how they get used to it. I am sure the corners and linebackers can get used to it a lot easier than the big guys down on the field. The thing that kills me, we’ll go where they will run a quick screen to the right and in practice you’ve got to run to the ball. So all the linemen will run to the ball 40 yards away. Then they will spot the ball for the next play on the opposite hash so you have to sprint all the way back there because another offense is coming in. It’s play. Sprint. Sprint back. Play. Sprint. Spring back. Play. Sprint. Sprint back. It’s tough.

Q: How many seconds elapse between plays in practice?

It depends how fast [offensive coordinator Gary] Crowton wants to go. If Crowton wants to go fast, we’ll go two huddles and it will be four to five seconds. First-team offense runs a play. Second-team offense comes in. But yet the first-team defense has to run back. That’s the problem. In the summer, first- and second-team offense would rotate and first-team defense would stay in for like five plays. Then the second-team defense would stay in for three to five plays.

Q: Is West Virginia’s defense similar?

It’s up-tempo. They use different kinds of sets that I actually have never seen before. Their offensive coordinator is a mad scientist just like Coach Crowton is. It is going to be interesting. I like going up against offenses like this because you study film but they always bring something you have never seen. I am sure they have some tricks up their sleeve.

Q: Is Coach Randy Edsall doing anything to emphasize the rivalry?

He’s not really doing anything to emphasize it. He just pointed out that we have not beaten them since 2004. There were a lot of guys here who were not in high school. It’s been a while. He just said it’s time to beat them. It’s only a rivalry game if it’s a rivalry. It’s not a rivalry if one team keeps getting their ass kicked all the time. So we have to pick it up and make it a rivalry.

By  |  01:47 PM ET, 09/15/2011

 
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