During his weekly Sunday teleconference, Maryland Coach Randy Edsall joked that defensive lineman A.J. Francis has “a knack for getting that big body skinny and slip it through that gap,” a shape-shifting ability that’s allowed him to block two field goals this season, including one against Virginia.
Francis had a different explanation. The Cavaliers’ attempt was so low, all he had to do was stick his hand into the air.
“This was the easiest one [I’ve ever had] in terms of effort, hands down,” Francis said. “I didn’t even get much of a push. Sometimes better being lucky than being good.”
During his prep days at Gonzaga, Francis learned the value of blocking kicks. It’s just a matter of giving full effort on every play. “A lot of guys, the only time they take field goal blocks seriously is when there’s three seconds left in the game and they’re up two,” Francis said.
His junior year in high school, Gonzaga blocked seven field goals. Francis had three, a single-season career high. Because the outspoken lineman remembers these things, the blocks came against Good Counsel, DeMatha and Eastern. The one against Eastern came when Francis pushed past the line so easily that he overran the spot, and his leg blocked the football. “That’s not good,” Francis said. “That’s pathetic.”
The biggest of his career, however, came earlier this season at Temple. With 8:11 left in the fourth quarter and Maryland clinging to a 29-20 lead, Temple kicker Brandon McManus attempted a 33-yard field goal. Soaring through the line, Francis launched himself above the fray, nearly horizontal to the ground, and blocked the kick with his right hand. The picture is now framed, hung in the hallway of Gossett Team House.
But the block against Virginia was the easiest, in terms of effort. “I think I could have blocked that one myself,” Edsall quipped Sunday.
“I’ve had three other rushes where I was three, four yards in the backfield, hand in perfect position, he kicks it right by my hand or I fall, something like that,” Francis said. “I came off the ball late, so I wasn’t even in a good position. I had my hand up, and it hit the side of my hand. I didn’t even get a chance to jump.”
The NCAA single-season record for blocked field goals, however, is pretty far off. In 2004, Kentucky’s Lonnell Dewalt had six. “That’s unbelievable,” Francis said, repeating “unbelievable” a few more times.