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“It was like the one hour that I’ve ever known A.J. that he didn’t talk,” O'Brien said. “He was in a food coma on my couch, and it was the quietest we’ve ever seen him. Just seeing A.J. not talk for a consecutive hour was unbelievable.”

Possibly as impressive as his family’s background.

Mike Francis was still enrolled at Anne Arundel Community College when A.J. was born in 1990. On the right side of their home was a crackhouse. On the left was the abode of a couple of alcoholics who fought every night. One of Mike Francis’ best friends was murdered in a nearby street a month after A.J.’s birth.

It was no place to raise a child. The family soon moved, making the economic situation work as needed. All along, the father fostered the son’s many interests.

Music? A.J. had a small studio in his bedroom. Sports? Mike would take his son halfway across the county to participate in the closest youth football league he wasn’t too big to play in. Drama? A.J. wrote and directed a play while he was in middle school.

“I couldn’t do that,” Mike Francis said. “I’m just being honest. I would never have been able to live that down in the neighborhood. I didn’t want him to experience that. I wanted him to do everything I didn’t do or didn’t have the heart to do or was afraid to do or bullied not to do.”

Which is how A.J. Francis‘ blend of youthful assertiveness and quick wit (as well as some physical gifts) landed him a major college football scholarship. He’s a two-time all-conference academic pick, and took to Twitter less than a week before Maryland’s season opener to point out he hadn’t received his certificate for that honor from last season.

In less than a day, ACC associate commissioner Michael Kelly replied and promised to bring him a replacement certificate when he attended the first game - a development Francis found hilarious.

“If there’s a problem with someone being who they are, there’s a bigger problem at hand,” Francis said. “There’s no problem. Coaches don’t have a problem with me being who I am. They just want me to be smart about it sometimes. I just am who I am. That’s never going to change. I’m always going to be me. I’m never going to be anyone else. I’m never going to be phony. I’m never going to be fake.”

And defensive end David Mackall figures he won’t be quiet, either. Hence his nickname for Francis: “Motormouth.”

“He’s the biggest the one I’ve ever met by far, and I’ve been on this earth for 20 years,” Mackall said.

‘One of a kind’

Keith Francis has a story about his nephew.

It was around Christmas one year in the early 1990s, and A.J. Francis‘ long-running love of professional wrestling already was kindled. Handed a microphone, A.J. pointed upward, momentarily morphed into a mini-Vince McMahon and bellowed “Hulk Hogan, I want you to come down here and fight my uncle.”

Keith Francis estimates he was all of 145 pounds at the time. The entire family, in turn, broke into laughter at A.J.’s earnest showmanship.

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