A recurring series where we will profile every player on Maryland's roster, counting down to kick-off against William & Mary on September 1. Thanks to OBNUG for the idea.
Today we profile a player who has started in progressively less games in every year of his Maryland career, much to Maryland fans' chagrine.
A.J. Francis, Senior (RS), Defensive Tackle, #96
Major: Government & Politics
Collegiate Stats: 106 tackles (68 assisted), 11.5 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, one fumble forced, one fumble recovered, two passes broken up
High School Stats (Senior Year): 61 tackles, 26 for a loss, 4.5 sacks, 71 pancakes
Recruiting Ratings: Three stars by Rivals (#4 in D.C., #68 DT), two stars by Scout (#82 OG)
High School: Gonzaga College
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
High School Highlights:
Nothing from high school, but here are highlights from his first two years at Maryland.
How'd He Get to College Park?
As A.J. is oft to remind you on Twitter, he is the perfect case of recruiting agencies getting it wrong. Scout had him as a two-star offensive guard, ESPN didn’t even have him ranked – Rivals was the only one who was remotely close to assessing his true talent level with their three-star ranking. As one of the top players in the District, Francis was named all-WCAC and all-Met, and played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He was recruited to Maryland by Chris Cosh, and chose the Terps over Wake Forest. Here’s the story on why he committed, from Francis himself:
When I went out to the All-American Combine last year … the first day I destroyed everybody and Tom Lemming went on ESPN and said I was the best defensive tackle there. So everybody had me as the best defensive tackle in the country. The next day we ran the 40 in the rain outside and I ran a slow 40 time. Even though I was the best defensive tackle there, just because I ran a bad 40 time [schools] didn’t recruit me. But [Terps defensive line] coach [Dave] Sollazzo and [defensive coordinator] coach [Chris] Cosh contacted me and said, ‘We don’t care about that. When’s the last time a defensive lineman had to run 40 yards to get to a quarterback?’ The Wednesday when I got back from the combine, that’s when I committed.
Francis redshirted his first year on campus, and then became a starting defensive tackle after Dion Armstrong left the program. He played very well that year, recording 31 tackles and being named a freshman All-American. In 2010, he teamed up with Joe Vellano on the interior defensive line, with great success. Opposing lines double-teamed Francis consistently throughout the year, leading to Vellano’s All-ACC year. Even with the double teams, Francis was still able to post 44 tackles (seven for a loss) and 2.5 sacks.
Last year, for whatever reason, Francis only started four games. He still played well, out producing his freshman All-American numbers, if not quite reaching his 2010 totals. But we need not worry about him getting his playing time anymore, as the hope is the 3-4 set-up will be centered around his play at the nose.
A.J. writes poetry, raps, and was in all of high school’s spring musicals, including West Side Story as Office Krupke. That's the best thing we've ever heard. Someone needs to scout out the casting director at Gonzaga.
"The Franchyze", "Joe Diamond", "Fat Man", "A.J."...he's got too many nicknames already.
Making three straight Academic All-ACC teams.
Starting less than half of Maryland's games last season.
The 3-4 revives his Maryland career, putting him in a good spot for the NFL Draft and helping lead the Terps' defense to a successful season.
The transition the new defense is a rough one, and his status as a starter is called into question.
The nose tackle position seems pretty straight forward for Maryland this year. You need a big player who can take up space, but also a smart player who can read defenses well. A.J. Francis has the size and experience to fit both of these roles, and sits on top of the depth chart at arguably the most important position in the 3-4.
Behind him are two talented younger guys in Nate Clarke and Darius Kilgo, and a walk-on in Alex Walker. Clarke and Kilgo should be battling for the starting job next season, when Francis goes to the pros. But for now, A.J.'s job is about as safe as anybody else's on the defense.
Mind you, that doesn't mean it's safe safe. Even though Francis has been considered a starter in our hearts in each of the past three seasons, he's only started in 23 of 37 games. That's more than a whole season of coming off the bench, and last year was the strangest of his three in College Park.
Coming off a great 2010 where the speed/strength combo of Vellano and Francis helped lead Maryland's defense to a very successful campaign, it was kind of taken for granted that the two would return to their starting spots on the line. However, with new coaches come change, and for whatever reason Francis was the subject of one of the more surprising changes in the new regime. He only started in four games, and that was that.
With the new 3-4, however, Francis should find himself as a key part of Maryland's defense once again. He fits one of their needs to a tee, and gives them the experience needed to anchor this defense. Let's just hope the coaches agree.
Again, the next one is pretty obvious, so we'll have a trivia question included as well.
Our next player is a part of the first father-son combo at the same school in ACC history.
And for the trivia - in 2010, A.J. Francis had 11 tackles against FIU. That was the most by a Maryland defensive lineman since _____.
kbuts151 got Friday's, and we have a tie.
Maryland1206 - 5
kbuts151 - 5
Terpsfinish - 1
ClickClack62 - 1
Mdak06 - 1
bubbasparks - 1
Everybody else - 0