MORGANTOWN - The nickname for linebacker Josh Francis at Lackawanna College was "Road Close."
It's somewhat appropriate. The reason: The road to West Virginia's program was anything but smooth and paved.
"My journey to West Virginia was a long, hard one," Francis said. "Coming out of Lackawanna College was one of the hardest things I ever did in my life. Lackawanna is one of the most winningest JUCOs on the East Coast. The people who get recruited there are hungry, from the worst parts of the country. All are put together to get 11 guys to go after it. Sometimes it doesn't always go as planned."
He paused before restarting.
"But getting here is a good thing."
It seems to be a good thing both for the player and the Mountaineers. Gone from last season's lineup are three longtime standouts at linebacker, J.T. Thomas, Pat Lazear and Anthony Leonard. Mountaineer defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was seeking help, and he may have found it in the 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior college transfer.
"He can run," Casteel said. "He's an explosive kid. He's not a real big kid at 212 or 215 pounds, but if you look real fast, he's the same body type and has the same movement as J.T."
Francis has an impressive resume. He was a 2010 NJCAA first-team All-America selection. Sporting News named him a junior college "Super Sophomore." In his two years at Lackawanna, he recorded 95 tackles and 13 sacks.
But, again, the road to WVU was rocky. Coming out of Damascus [Md.] High, there might have been interest, but no bites.
"Coming out of high school I saw online that I had offers from Kent State and Michigan State," Francis said. "But I never saw anything. It was only what the Internet said. I do remember talking to a Kent State coach. He came up to me after a track practice. After that, though ..."
After that, crickets. The reason? Francis failed to qualify academically. He believes he would have received an offer from Kent had he done so.
After a couple years at Lackawanna in Scranton, Pa., though, everything changed.