"We're still looking at you. If you change your mind it's all good. You just tell us and we'll still be here," the text messages read.
Francis, a 6-foot-4, 315-pound lineman from Gonzaga College High in the District, would have none of it. He was done with recruiting, a solid commitment to Maryland.
Too bad recruiting wasn't done with him.
Francis attended the State College Nike Camp a couple months after he committed to Maryland, just for fun. Big mistake, he said. Word spread among college coaches: "Is he looking around?" The text messages flooded his phone again.
"I was like, ‘I'm not changing my mind, it's not worth wasting my time,'" Francis said.
Things quieted over the summer and into his senior season at Gonzaga. Then came the rumors; though outlandish and unjustified ones. Coach Ralph Friedgen and defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, the two coaches instrumental in his decision to commit to Maryland, might be fired because of the mediocre 2007 season, Francis heard.
"I don't know what I want to do if they get fired," he thought. Recruiting would start all over again.
Turns out both coaches are still at Maryland and Francis will sign his letter of intent today. His decision to orally commit so early is not uncommon in recruiting these days, and, in fact, is becoming en vogue. It allows kids to enjoy their senior years and not worry about the stresses that come with Division I football recruiting. But it also leaves open a large window—as Francis came to discover, even though his post-commit recruitment was rather tame—for college coaches to try to change a recruit's decision, and in the process, create a whirlwind of speculation and attention.
Francis grew tired of the constant calls and text messages early in the process. He lives in Severn, Md., a 1 1/2 hour commute from Gonzaga. Add on the three hours of homework each night and college recruiters were the last thing he wanted to deal with his senior season.
In early January of 2007, he participated in the Army All-American junior combine in San Antonio and blew away the competition in one-on-one drills. ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Lemming called him the best defensive lineman at the camp, and the college coaches came storming. But the next day, Francis ran a slow 40-yard dash time, and the coaches receded. Except Maryland's—Friedgen and Cosh called Francis to tell him they were still there. That made the decision easy, and Francis committed three days after the combine over offers from Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
"The coaches at Maryland are the most genuine people that I know," Francis said. "They don't tell you what you want to hear, they tell you the truth. I respect that."
His parents supported his decision to commit early, along with his coach at Gonzaga at the time, Kenny Lucas.
"His advice was if I chose to commit early and I feel comfortable then I should to try to get it out of the way because the stress isn't worth it," Francis said Lucas told him. Francis wouldn't have to push himself during his senior season to get looks from colleges. He could play without any worries.
The one caveat, though: Francis would have to stick with his decision. No wavering whatsoever. No problem, Francis thought. And it really wasn't.
"I don't feel like he was unsure at all. He was always extremely excited about his decision," said Gonzaga defensive back Johnson Bademosi, who committed to Stanford last week over an offer from Maryland.
Bademosi's recruitment was different from Francis': His senior season was critical. He didn't have the offers he wanted before the season, so his play dictated what options he held after the season. Though he managed to put recruiting in the back of his mind during the year, it began to wear on him.
"If I had the same options before the season that I had after the season I definitely would had tried to make my decision before the season starts during the summer," Bademosi said. "That seems to be the best course to take."
Said current Gonzaga coach Joe Reyda, "The kids that wait until signing day, they're banking on a very good season with some good highlights and trying to sell themselves. It's a long process. It can be very frustrating at times so I think getting it out of the way before the season the starts is not a bad thing."
The Maryland staff checked in on Francis during his senior season to chat and make sure his grades were satisfactory. Yet even then the vying for his services didn't stop. Only this time, it was between Friedgen and Cosh. Friedgen asked Francis if he'd rather play offense or defense. Cosh wasn't that open.
"No, you're playing defense," Cosh said. "I'm going to need you to take offensive plays off your highlights."
Seems like recruiting never stops.
The Early Bird: A.J. Francis
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