A few years ago, A.J. Francis decided he wanted to transfer to attend school at North County (Md.) High, where his dad was then the head basketball coach and offensive coordinator for the football team, but was denied because it was considered an athletic transfer.
Francis then went on a tour of some of the elite academic-athletic private schools in the Washington area, eventually opting to attend Gonzaga Catholic in the District. Well, nowadays the 6-foot-5, 315-pound defensive tackle is about to begin a similar process – only in much larger scale.
A month into his junior season, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest have tendered scholarship offers to Francis, while schools such as Georgia and Notre Dame are taking a hard look at him. With his massive frame and overall skill set – he can bench press 185 pounds 23 times, has good agility for his size and possesses good grades – he’s sure to be a highly sought commodity as the process goes on.
Francis has been to Maryland several times, most recently last weekend for the FIU game. Afterwards he joked around with recruiting coordinator Dave Sollazzo for a while. Though he expects to play early wherever he goes, Francis said the coaching staff’s ability to relate to him is his No. 1 criteria in choosing a college home.
“If I had to choose, I really like the coaches at Maryland. I’ve spent a lot of time with coach Sollazzo and Coach Bossard,” Francis said. “He’s [Sollazzo] a cool dude.”
Francis grew up following Florida State (I got a questionnaire from them, but that’s about it.”) and likes Notre Dame as well, but has not been offered by the Fightin’ Irish. He plays offensive tackle as well but is being recruited mostly as a defensive lineman, fashioning his play after an NFL great.
“I really try to pattern my game after Reggie White. I’ve watched a lot of his highlights on NFL Films … I can do a lot of things. My favorite thing to do is my club move,” he said. “They call me a run stuffer.”
The Terps staff has made it clear to Francis that early playing time would most likely be available, as they’re thing on the defensive line and don’t have many players coming in next year at his position. Maryland appears to have focused much of it’s early defensive tackle recruiting efforts for ’08 on Francis and Teddy Dargan of Millford Mill (Baltimore).
While visiting Maryland, he received a recruiting sales pitch from Terps tight end, a Gonzaga alum whose younger brother Paul is Gonzaga’s other starting tackle.
“He told me to continue the pipeline of Gonzaga players to Maryland,” Francis said.
The coaches have taken Francis and his father, Mike Francis, on a tour of the facilities and spoken to him about Maryland’s impressive academics.
“Academics are important, definitely. I learned that from my dad,” said Francis, who has a 2.76 GPA at academically prestigious Gonzaga and scored a 1460 on the SAT. He rides 45 minutes on the MARC train from Anne Arundel County to D.C. for school every day.
While Maryland clearly has established good inroads with him, Francis, like most players, wants to see how wide a scope of schools come calling.
“Three weeks ago, Notre Dame didn’t know who I was, and now they’re sending me mail all the time,” he said.
Thus, he doesn’t have much of a timeframe set for making a commitment, but it’s unlikely to come anytime soon
His decision “could be before my senior year,” he said, “or it might be after my senior year.”