A.J. Francis willing to give Terps a big hand

He’s blocked two field goal tries

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Defensive end A.J. Francis blocked his second field goal attempt of the season Saturday in Maryland’s 27-20 victory at Virginia.

Never at a loss for words, the loquacious senior nonetheless offered a simple explanation Tuesday for his unusual prowess.

“Being 6-5,” Francis said. “I was just blessed with a big frame and big hands and long arms.”

Not to mention an ability to change games for the Terps (4-2, 2-0 ACC), who play host to N.C. State (4-2, 1-1) on Saturday at Byrd Stadium.

It was Francis who swatted away a short field goal try in the fourth quarter of last month’s 36-27 victory at Temple to deny the Owls any points from a possession that started in the red zone. He also got his hand up on Virginia kicker Drew Jarrett’s attempt in the first half Saturday.

The latest block wasn’t quite as dramatic, nor was it as difficult. It likely won’t prompt the addition of a framed picture on the wall in the team house, as Francis‘ successful leap against Temple has.

But it was an instructive moment for coach Randy Edsall, who appreciated Francis‘ effort enough to point it out during a team meeting Sunday.

“I think what’s important about A.J. in that situation in terms of field goal and PAT block is the fact he takes it serious,” Edsall said. “He doesn’t take the play off. He has a knack to get that big body skinny and slip it through the gap. Some guys have that knack.”

While the 305-pound Francis might not warrant anything referring to him as skinny — this is the guy, after all, who often invokes the Twitter hashtag “FatGuyFriendly” — blocking kicks is nothing new.

He said he denied five tries over three seasons at the District’s Gonzaga High School, where he credited coaches for emphasizing the value of blocked kicks. He’s added three more at Maryland, and this year became the first Terp with multiple blocks in a season since Josh Wilson in 2005.

“He’s a big guy, has a lot of girth, so it’s not too hard for him,” linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield said. “I don’t think it’s as much of a jumping ability thing. I think it’s more that he’s really strong and gets a lot of push, and he’s so tall he just gets his hands up.”

Francis rues some missed opportunities this season. He’s stumbled after slipping past a lineman a few times, and he had a rush against Virginia when he got a couple of yards into the backfield and put his hand in ideal position before the kick scooted just out of his reach.

He argued his block against the Cavaliers came from his worst rush of the day. He merely put his arm in the air and had the good fortune of facing a line-drive kick.

“That’s like an interception that a quarterback throws right at you,” Hartsfield said. “The kick was like to our heads, but he did a great job of blocking it and getting his hands up.”

Francis marveled at the NCAA record for blocked field goals in a season, set by Kentucky’s Lonnell Dewalt in 2004 with six. And while there isn’t an obvious blueprint for making that great a special teams impact, Francis disclosed one secret to his success beyond his size.

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