MORGANTOWN - When West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was asked to point to a rising star for one of the preseason magazines, he did so by nodding to linebacker Josh Francis.
"That's a big thing," Francis said on Friday.
Now, however, it's time for Francis to earn the praise and become WVU's next big thing. Coaches have been awaiting his breakout since the senior arrived from Lackawanna College after being named a junior college All-America selection.
He says he's shown glimpses and points to a 10 tackle-performance last season against LSU. The stats, though, say he had nine all of last season. It's time to improve.
"I feel Coach Holgorsen is the best coach in the world," Francis said. "And he's told me before that how you beat expectations is by hard work. You can get overwhelmed. But I like to work hard and run at full speed."
Francis said although he's listed behind Jewone Snow, he's now running No. 1 at the buck linebacker position after gaining 10 pounds to move to 227. The Damascus, Md., product said he's still trying to grasp the new 3-4 scheme and all the changes around the WVU program.
"You hit the gaps a lot quicker compared to other defenses," Francis said. "You never want to overrun your gap. As long as you go through your responsibilities in your mind beforehand, you're OK. In the 3-3-5 I was engaged with linemen a lot. With this, not so much."
Juggling all the changes still seems a challenge.
"With all that's happening with the staff and new conference ... when you have 65,000 fans screaming and you know you have to be there and make the tackle right now, that's overwhelming," Francis said.
WVU's cornerbacks are being asked to take on more responsibility in the run game in the new defensive scheme.
"We like to cover first, but if we can help stop the run, that will be good too," said field cornerback Brodrick Jenkins.
"We have certain coverages in regard to the run game," said boundary cornerback Avery Williams, who is running No. 2 to Pat Miller. "Like today, we put in a new one called 'Cloud.' We have to be big boys. We have to go in and hit Shawne Alston when he's in the backfield. We have to tuck our pride, man up and hit someone.
"It will be playing a big part of the defense this year. We'll be doing a lot more blitzing too. You have to man up."
Redshirt sophomore Quinton Spain, slotted to take over for Don Barclay at left tackle, said his "main responsibility is to protect [quarterback] Geno Smith's blind side."
Apparently, he's getting used to the term. He's certainly used to the movie "The Blind Side."
"Everybody says I look like the person who played [Michael Oher]," Spain said.
At 6-foot-5, Spain, down to 335 pounds, said he now hopes to star at his role.
"Last year, I switched and played right tackle," Spain said. "All my life I've played left tackle. It's the one position I feel most comfortable at. But it doesn't matter where I'm at, I can move. It just feels good to be lighter."