Francis’ Success Goes Beyond the Field

Student-athlete is a term that is often bandied about in college athletics. But for Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis, maximum effort in the classroom and on the field is what comes naturally. Francis, a Severn, Md., native, briefly considered other programs, including West Virginia and Georgia Tech, before committing to Maryland. A three-star recruit from Gonzaga College High School in Washington, D.C., Francis ranked No. 82 nationally among offensive guards coming out of high school. “I considered some other schools,” he said, “But when it came down to it, Maryland just seemed like family. It’s where I wanted to stay. I love the coaches, I love the school. It was a good fit for me.” After redshirting his freshman year in 2008, Francis quickly began making an impact for the Terps in 2009. He led all defensive linemen with 31 tackles to become a College Football News honorable mention freshman All-American, a freshman All-ACC Choice and an Academic All-ACC choice in his first season. During his sophomore season, Francis ranked second on the team in tackles among defensive lineman (44) and third on the squad with seven tackles for loss. His 11 stops were the most by a Maryland defensive lineman in six seasons since 2005 first-round draft pick Shawne Merriman. Francis played in all 13 games, including the Military Bowl win over East Carolina, as the team went 9-4. In the process, he became an Academic All-ACC choice once again. “The year we went 9-4 and won the Military Bowl, that was a great year,” he said. “We were literally one play against Florida State, one play versus Miami, a few plays against West Virginia from having a really, really great year. I’m hoping we can duplicate that success.” Through his collegiate career, Francis has played for two head coaches and three defensive coordinators. Even though coaching changes can often rattle many players, Francis’ devotion to the program has remained a constant. “I love this school; I love being here,” he said. “I couldn’t see myself playing for anyone else. I love Maryland too much; that’s all it came down to.” In 2011, in his first season under head coach Randy Edsall, Francis became a threetime Academic All-ACC selection, plaing in all 12 games and recording 31 tackles. This season, his last in a Terp uniform, has been strong so far. In the season opening win over William & Mary, Francis recorded five assisted tackles, a sack and a tackle for loss as a starter. Last weekend at Temple, Francis blocked a kick, recovered a fumble

and recorded a sack in the victory. He credits the productive start to the team’s hunger for success. “Winning doesn’t come easy for anyone,” he said. “You’ve got to put the work in and finish the product on Saturdays. I think we understand now, how precious it is to get a win. I think we’re all still fighting, trying to get those wins.” As a three-time All-ACC Academic, Francis puts the same dedication into his studies as he does to football. A December graduate with a degree in government and politics, Francis is now enrolled in the social policy graduate program at Maryland. “To me school work has never been hard,” he said. “I’ve liked learning what I was learning. It was never hard for me to put the extra time in to do the work.” Hoping to pursue a career in government after his football career is over, Francis finds parallels in football and politics. The dedication needed to play football is similar to the dedication to succeed in the political world. “When you play football, you have to do the small things over and over, every play, every rep in practice,” he explained. “If you don’t, you won’t be successful. I think when it comes to politics; you’ve got to do the same things all the time. You’ve got to get out there and see your constituents; you’ve got to kiss babies. You’ve got to do the same things over and over again if you want to be successful; but while doing the same things over and over again, you’ve got to do them better.” Francis takes his preparation seriously in both the classroom and on the field. He watches upwards of 10 hours of film a week to prepare for games, while maintaining a 3.6 GPA. “I think it’d be kind of awesome if I could be Academic All-American this year,” he said of his personal goals for the season. “I have a 3.6 right now in grad school, so the grades are there. I just have to have a good year on the field. I think that’d be kind of awesome.” As for the team, Francis hopes the momentum continues, resulting in more wins and success. His ultimate goal for the season is the ACC Championship. “We’ve been close; we were one game away two years ago,” he said. “Last year, [look at] the guys in the Orange Bowl: we should’ve beat Clemson, we should’ve beat West Virginia, and those teams played in the Orange Bowl. It makes you feel terrible, sitting at home watching the game and you know you could’ve beat both those teams.” Francis is as well-known for his off-field personality as he is for his devotion to the game. Constantly referred to as the team jokester, Francis carries a care-free attitude everywhere — except when there’s work to be done and progress to be made.

“I’m one of those guys that likes to joke around on the team,” he said. “A lot of times when I say something, people don’t always take it so seriously, so I just try to lead by example a lot. I always try to start drills first; I finish drills first. When we do conditioning, I try to set an example for the other guys and let them know that you’ve got to be able to keep up. We’re all capable of finishing the way that I do, or Joe Vellano and Demetrius Hartsfield do.” When it’s game time, there’s no place Francis would rather put the practice into play. The fans and atmosphere at Byrd Stadium have made every game memorable, and he relishes playing for the Maryland faithful. “I think playing in Byrd is just so special. There’s no other arena we’ve played in quite like it. Here the student section is so prominent. At other places we’ve played at, they have student sections, but you don’t know where they are. “I love coming out there,” he continued. “After every game, I’ll be walking back to my car, and someone will be like, ‘A.J., great game! I’ve been coming to Maryland games since the ‘50s and ‘60s, and I love how you guys played today.’” Through the coaching changes and his strict academic dedication as a Terp, Francis hasn’t wavered about one thing: his commitment to this university. “I feel like there’s so much togetherness and love and family. I feel like Maryland is a big family, and I felt like that when I first got here, and I still feel like that today.”

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