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Second chances for Francis

Courtesy photo
Most of Josh Francis's playing time last year came on special teams, but this year the junior college transfer expects to play a bigger role with the Mountaineers.

MORGANTOWN - As West Virginia linebacker Josh Francis spoke after a practice, perspiration poured from his body.

"Man," he said. "I can't stop sweating. I've never sweated like this."

Truth be told, however, Francis has been sweating figuratively since he hit WVU's campus as a first-team NJCAA (junior college) All-America selection.

Francis, a 6-foot-1, 221-pound senior, was expected to make an immediate impact on the Mountaineers' 2011 3-3-5 odd stack defense. Yet he finished last season with just nine tackles, seven unassisted, in eight games played. Most of those tackles were via special-teams play.

Basically, it was a lost season for the transfer. Because he was lost.

"Just confusing," he said of last season. "Stressful."

It was frustrating and stressful for the coaches as well. They all saw the player's raw skills. They witnessed his speed. But Francis would move to the wrong spots on the field. He wasn't making plays. So his junior year was basically a wipeout.

It took a toll on the player under the gear.

"Last year I found myself with a lot of stress, taking it home with me," Francis said. "I found myself staying up late, trying to put things together. But I could never put anything together. As a result, it affected my personal life with people, things like that. Instead of letting things flow, letting football come to me ..."

He paused.

"That's all I've done all my life," he said of football. "I'd never been in that position. I'd never sat out [from starting for] a year. I'd never gone through the mental things I did. I've learned from that and have been able to move on and not look back."

What helped?

 "The Lord," he said.

One could tell by the look on the linebacker's face he was pained by the experience.

"Sometimes last year, like at midseason, I found myself with no direction," Francis said. "I couldn't really focus until, what they say, I shut my locker. Everything settled down. I was able to take a step back and was able to look at it that way."

He appears more comfortable now.

"Everything happens for a reason," Francis said. "I stuck through last year and that's a great thing. I was blessed with an opportunity to learn the system."

This, however, is the last opportunity for the player. It might be a worry to the coaches and fans that, in effect, he has to start over and learn a new 3-4 defensive scheme. Also, there are new assistants on that side of the ball.

"When the [new] coaches first came in, I had no idea," Francis said. "I played a 3-4 a long time ago in high school, but I was an inside linebacker. I never played outside. That was sort of new for me."

He seems at ease, however, as a Buck (outside) linebacker. Responsibilities have changed, yet Francis seems OK.

"Contain the quarterback," he said of responsibility changes from the strong-side position he played last season. "That's a lot different. And play fast. Give great effort. They show you technique. I always give great effort. Technique falls in line."

Francis added that the WVU defense is likewise falling in line. Despite the scheme change, he claims the unit is in better shape now than it was a season ago at this time.

"We're all on the same page," Francis said. "I think everyone that's a backup is on the same page as those on first team. There are no starters per se. If you rotate, you're considered a starter."

One coach said Francis "has to be disruptive in this defense," so consider him a key for next season. He's fighting with Morgantown High product Tyler Anderson at Buck, but the hope is Francis can be the man while Anderson helps at defensive end.

"I'm ready for that," Francis said of the prospect of starting.

The linebacker, by the way, came from Lackawanna College in Scranton, Pa. It's where WVU also landed Mark Glowinski, an incoming offensive lineman the coaches are hoping offers immediate help.

 "I played with Mark a long time ago," Francis said. "I believe I was a senior and he was a freshman. There was another lineman there before Mark who got into things off the field. It caused him to go home. The kid sent home was pretty good. I thought he was really good, actually.

"When I called there to check on Mark, they said he improved a lot since that kid left. And they said he was now better than the kid that left. Mark should be a great player coming in."

And if Glowinski struggles, odds are he'll have a friend to lean on in Francis.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827,      mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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