When looking back at A.J. Francis’s exploits during his four years at Gonzaga, it would appear he had the best time of his life.
Along with starring on the football team as an offensive and defensive lineman, Francis participated in the school’s spring musical, recorded two rap albums and was the ringleader for the student section at basketball games, sporting the most unique of outfits to match his boisterous cheers (With a personality like that, it’s no wonder, Francis made Sports Illustrated’s annual Twitter 100 list).
For the first two years, Francis couldn’t stand going to the D.C. school, which required an hour-long train commute from his house in Severn. But after Francis gained access to a car as a junior during his uncle’s deployment in 2006, allowing him to spend more time with his friends back home while juggling his academic and athletic duties, not only did his attitude toward Gonzaga improve but so did his play on the football field.
“When I first got to Gonzaga, I was a bratty little kid. I thought I knew everything and thought nobody could teach me anything,” Francis recalled. “During my junior year, I began to realize all that Gonzaga was teaching me and I was able to put away being an immature kid and start growing into a man. Those were the first steps to getting where I am today.”
Today, he’s an honorable mention all-ACC defensive lineman with a shot at hearing his name called in the later rounds of the NFL draft. Francis said he’s been in contact with a handful of NFL teams and flown in for workouts with two of those squads. In between then, the fifth-year senior has been training at the Bommarito Performance Systems facility in South Florida.
“I’m usually in the weight room about one and a half to two hours and I do footwork drills or straight up conditioning to stay in shape,” Francis said. “That’s important for a big guy like me, to able to keep up with the quicker lineman and players.”
Size has always been something Francis had to consider. At Gonzaga, Francis measured in at six feet, 315 pounds, providing an extra advantage to his diverse set of skills. As a senior, he earned all-WCAC first-team and honorable mention All-Met honors after recording 61 tackles, 26 for loss and 4.5 sacks on defense along with 71 pancakes on the offensive line.
“Not to sound cocky or anything, but at Gonzaga, I was a lot bigger than everybody, so I really only had to play hard for three games: St. John’s, DeMatha and Good Counsel,” said Francis, who was named team defensive MVP as a junior. “But Gonzaga still taught me a strong work ethic on and off the field. Not only is it a tough place to play because of the competition, but it’s academically challenging, so it prepared me for college.”
At Maryland, Francis honed his knack for blocking kicks, tallying a team-high three deflections to go with three fumble recoveries and nine tackles for loss this past season.
Draft sites have him going anywhere from the fifth round to being an undrafted free agent. But Francis, who overcame low recruiting rankings in high school, remains confident. After all, getting the attention of others has never been a problem for the gregarious lineman.
“I feel like my game translates very well to the NFL because I have a physical style of play that can help me against the behemoths at the next level,” Francis said. “I believe I will get drafted and I know I’m on some team’s boards, but I guess they could still side with another player. So at this point, you just have to wait and see.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 14.06
Seconds it took McNamara Jordan Martin to run the 110-hurdles at the McNamara Mustangs Invitational. The senior’s first-place time set a new meet record.
–After decommitting from George Washington last month, Riverdale Baptist senior Nigel Johnson pledged to Kansas State’s basketball program Saturday.
–Townsend Brown scored in overtime to send No. 4 Georgetown Prep to a narrow, 8-7 victory against rival No. 2 Landon in Saturday’s boys’ lacrosse game.
–Washington-Lee’s sophomore-laden rowing team won the Smokey Jacobs Regatta this past weekend.
WHAT TO WATCH TODAY
No. 1 Oakton at No. 6 Herndon, 7 p.m.
The area’s top boys’ soccer team will go up against one of the region’s best goal keepers in Keegan Fairchild, who has 77 saves this season for Herndon.