For those who haven’t taken a look, click here and read today’s dead-tree edition profile of Maryland defensive tackle A.J. Francis.
As his good friend Joe Vellano notes, Francis is one of a kind … well, at least outside his family of outsized personalities. Needless to say, that means there were plenty of tidbits gleaned from collecting anecdotes for that story over the last three months that couldn’t be crammed into the dead-tree this morning.
Fortunately, Al Gore’s Invention affords a limitless array of space, so here’s 10 A.J. Francis stories (in no particular order) and insights that should be read but just couldn’t make the cut.
1. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO A.J. FRANCIS
How will Francis’ life unfold? Just ask him. …
“I’m going to go to the NFL, God willing, probably not good enough to play there very long,” Francis said. “So I’m going to play there maybe for a couple years and make decent money for a couple years. After that, I’m going to become world heavyweight champion within five years time. I’m going to headline Wrestlemania at least twice in a row. Then I’m going to have an illustrious wrestling career until I’m at least 35. Then, once I’m like 35, I’m going to get out of it, come back to Maryland, have enough money to live off. I’ll start some businesses the entire time and then I’ll start working in public service.
“Flash forward to 2036, I’m the governor of Maryland. Now, we’re looking at 2052 by the time I’m president. I’m definitely going to be the best president of all time. Any problems we have now, we won’t have then because I am the leader this country needs. Until that day comes, we’ll just have to hope we can survive as a nation.”
2. THE CAMPAIGN SLOGAN’S READY NOW
Francis’ White House run won’t be for another four decades based on his timetable, but fret not: He has what he thinks is a winning slogan.
“My campaign slogan is ‘Vote A.J. or You’ll Lose.’” Francis said. “That simple.”
And people think Herman Cain is catchy.
3. THE BABY-SITTERS CLUB
Francis’ father, Mike, described the summer between Francis’ junior and senior years at Gonzaga College High School as a time when A.J. was rarely home.
Why? A.J. had picked up about a half-dozen babysitting gigs to make some money. Since he was a magnetic personality and had a car, he was both good with kids and able to take them places in the city.
Of course, it led to some interesting juxtapositions.
“At this point, I’m like 6-4, 340 —- and a 6-4, 340 black kid —- and I’ve got these twin 3-year-old white girls and leading them around everywhere,” Francis said. “Everywhere we’d go, people would be like ‘What in the hell is going on there.’”
4. BISCUITS ON SPRING BREAK
There was no way to completely compress a hilarious spring break tale involving Francis, Demetrius Hartsfield and Kenny Tate. Hartsfield grinned when thinking about that week, but was gracious and judicious enough to share this snapshot.
“Me, Kenny and A.J. went on a trip last spring break,” Hartsfield said. “I’m not going to share too many of those stories, but we definitely have a lot of stories from then. One of them, so me and Kenny were playing NBA 2K and A.J. was asleep. So me and Kenny, we were hungry but we were playing a video game. A.J. wakes up and complains about hungry he is. Me and Kenny have four minutes left in the game, we were like ‘All right, just wait for a minute.’
“So the four minutes probably took about 10, so it got to about eight minutes —- there was a minute left in the game —- and A.J. leaves. He’s like, ‘Yo, I’m about to go down to the car.’ And we’re like ‘We’re going to be done in two minutes.’ Me and Kenny finish the game and we walk downstairs and A.J.’s car is gone. He leaves us and he comes back probably 20 minutes later and has some Red Lobster biscuits. Red Lobster was across the street. So he went across the street, left us and all he got was biscuits. Me and Kenny were pissed. It was funny because he cannot wait to eat. He was so mad.”
5. PROTECTING THE LITTLE GUY
Francis’ uncle Keith, now a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, noted that A.J.’s always been blunt —- but also extremely supportive of people.
Take this instance from when he was much younger.
“He’s always been outspoken and he would tell you how he feels and that’s going to be that,” Keith Francis said. “But he’s always been respectful. He’s always been a good student. It’s just that he cares about people and how they feel. He’s always trying to put a smile on someone else’s face. …
“His best friend had a speech impediment. A.J. would basically be his mouthpiece. A.J. knew what he was trying to say when no one else knew, and A.J. could joke about it but he’d be damned if he let someone make fun of his little buddy with a speech impediment. A.J. was bigger and the buddy was smaller, and A.J. would know, for example, if he wanted something when we didn’t know what he was trying to say. But A.J. did.”
6. EL ZOMBITO BANDITO
This got mentioned in passing in the dead-tree story, but warrants a deeper take. Francis participated in an on-campus game of Humans vs. Zombies, a live-action contest that simulates a zombie apocalypse.
Anyway, Francis dubbed himself “El Zombito Bandito” and proudly announced his “kills” on Twitter each day. Of course, the zombie population grew and, well, let safety Eric Franklin explain from here.
“Oh man, this kid,” Franklin said. “That was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in my life. You see a 300-pound kid just running across —- he might get mad if I say 300 —- just under 300-pound kid and you see him getting chased by at least 50, 75 people, just running across campus with a Nerf gun and a cowboy hat or something. It was hilarious.”
7. A MISCUE TO FORGET
Kenny Tate and Francis have known each other a long time, and they played against each other in high school before joining Maryland’s program in the same recruiting class.
Tate offered a great tale from their high school days —- and one it’s clear he won’t let Francis soon forget.
“It would have to go back to high school,” Tate said. “It was Homecoming, DeMatha vs. Gonzaga and they were up 6-0 and finally we won, but the whole game it was battle.
“We were running the ball and running the ball and we scored. But before that, they had scored a touchdown and it was called back because A.J. was holding. Every time he says ‘We shoulda won that game,’ I say ‘If you hadn’t held, y’all would have gone up 14 and might have won. I don’t think you would have, but you held the jersey, man. You can’t be holding that tackle.’ He always gets mad when I say that.”
8. TAKING CARE OF THINGS AT A YOUNG AGE
Francis was 11 when this story takes place. Rather than try to interject any commentary, let him take it from here.
“There was this kid named Josh Danza,” Francis said. “This was little league basketball, and every time I would get the ball he would smack me in the arms when I was shooting and the ref wouldn’t call it. My dad was my coach and I told my dad ‘He keeps smacking me in the arm,’ and he said ‘You take care of it. Be a man.’
“So I was like ‘OK.’ The very next time he slapped me on my arm I said ‘If you slap me on my arms again, you’re going to regret it.’ Mind you, I’m 11 years old. So he slapped me on my arms again and they got the ball and we were running up the court and I pretty much roll tackled him into the bleachers. My dad was like ‘What the hell are you doing? Why did you do that?’ I said ‘You told me take care of it and I took care of it.’”
9. QBs vs. LINEMEN
Sometimes, you get the most awesome stories from truly random discussions.
Last December, Francis and I were discussing practice sites the Military Bowl had used, including Eastern High School (which both UCLA and Temple had worked out at in 2009). That led to this tale.
“I was a sophomore in high school and played a night game there,” Francis said. “I had already planned to take an unofficial to Notre Dame the next day. We were playing a Friday night game and we were beating them by 40 at halftime and my coach pulls me aside and says ‘You going to Notre Dame tomorrow?’ And I said ‘Yeah.’ He said ‘We don’t need you in the second half,’ because he knew me and my dad had to drive all the way out there, so he just let me leave the game early.
“Me and my dad and my mom drove 10 hours through the night. I didn’t even take my ankle tape off. I had ankle tape on my entire unofficial visit. It was rough. I even know what game it was. It was against Michigan. Mario Manningham had three touchdown catches and just torched them.
“Then, in the locker room —- mind you at this point, the showers are broken in our high school, so we didn’t shower in there —- so I’m in the locker room at Notre Dame and coach Charlie Weis pulls me over and Brady Quinn is completely naked. I’m sitting there trying to have a serious conversation with me and I’m 15 years old and talking to this naked superstar and I’m like ‘Uhhh.’ It was pretty uncomfortable.
“You know who was there that weekend? Jimmy Clausen was there that weekend for his official visit. I was standing next to him. I’ll never forget as long as I live; it’s when I realized nobody cares about linemen. I was standing right next to him and these fans came up and the little kid was like four years old and he pulled on my pant leg and he said ‘Sir?’ and I said ‘Yeah’ and he said ‘Can you move so I can talk to Jimmy Clausen.’ And I was like ‘Yeah, go right ahead.’”
10. THE MONEY QUOTE
In retrospect, this quote absolutely should have been in the story, but I overlooked it while scrambling to piece everything together. That’s a major miscue on my end.
But it doesn’t change the fact it sums up Francis perfectly. For context, it came during a discussion about how much interest he generates on Twitter, where (as @The_Franchyze) he has more than 1,600 followers.
“I find it funny that so many people care what I have to say, because I’m not that important of a person,” Francis said. “I just go out and I like to have a good time. I think the difference is some people that play college football are so afraid to branch out and be different that when writers and people see somebody like that, it attracts their attention because I’ve been different my whole life.”
—- Patrick Stevens