Ready For Battle

Josh Francis walked around the Puskar Center on Wednesday in a T-shirt with the word "SACRIFICE" printed on the back.

"If we want to win a championship, we have to sacrifice and make a commitment," said West Virginia's junior weak-side linebacker of new apparel all the Mountaineer players had on.

Those words are motivating factors for some. But, Josh Francis doesn't need any of that. He's more focused on finding a way to prove himself in 2011.

"A lot of times, (junior college) players think that they should already be in the line of fire for a starting job," said Francis, who played at Lackawanna College in Northeast Pennsylvania last year. "I kind of expected I was going to start or get in the game up here. I really want to start. I would expect nothing less."

Francis has been considered by many, including the defensive coaches, as a potential incoming impact player because of his speed and agility.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, who isn't necessarily the type of coach to hand out compliments freely, called Francis "very explosive" during spring ball. His 4.5-second 40-yard dash opened eyes to many big-time colleges like Arkansas, Kansas State, North Carolina, Oregon and Rutgers alongside West Virginia last year. So did his statistics at Lackawanna College, where he finished with 95 tackles, 19 tackles for loss and 13 sacks.

"He's quick, and he's an aggressive kid. He's a thumper with great explosiveness," Casteel said. "At times we may have to slow him down a bit, but he's done some things in these first few days that we thought he was capable of."

His potential has drawn some comparisons to now-senior defensive end Bruce Irvin, who was expected to make an impact and did in 2010 after being a standout junior college player.

Irvin, who finished with a team-high 14 sacks last year, has been a big help for Francis as he continues to make the progression from junior college to the Division I-A level.

"He gives me a lot of advice about keeping my head up and focusing on the small things. Being as we are older, we know the big picture, but we lack the small things like footwork," Francis said. "We will go out and work on our pass rush skills and football. He's just a big help and good role model."

Francis and fellow weak-side linebacker senior Casey Vance are in the middle of one of the most-contested position battles of the preseason. The two players have become even more important after head coach Dana Holgorsen dismissed linebacker Branko Busick from the team on Tuesday after being arrested and charged for armed robbery.

Francis admits he is faster, quicker and more agile than Vance, but doesn't know the complicated 3-3-5 defensive scheme as well.

"Casey is a great person, a great athlete and a great role model," Francis said. "Even though we are competing, he's also a good friend of mine. If I have to go in, that's cool. If he has to go in, that's cool, too. I'm definitely looking to compete this summer for it."

Francis likened himself to a colorless car being painted this spring.

After joining the team in January, he called his spring practice a "coat of primer" on the car.

"Coming into the summer, I think Coach Casteel will give me my finishing coat and smooth everything out," Francis said.

If that's the case, the Scranton, Pa., native might win best of show with the raw talents he has going for him.

"He's very fast and athletic – things that you can't teach," said fellow linebacker and projected starter at the strong-side position Doug Rigg. "If he really picks up the defense, it's going to be scary what he can do. Athletically, I've never seen a linebacker like that.

"You can be the biggest and strongest guy in the world, but if you don't know what you're doing then you're going to struggle. If Josh picks it up, he's going to be a scary player for us."

Francis admits he doesn't have everything down just yet, but that he's feeling more comfortable than he was during the spring and even through the first two weeks of summer.

"I feel a lot more confident in my first step and my run reads," Francis said. "This defense is so complex … When you don't know it, it can be frustrating, but in the summer it's easier for me. It's coming faster to me."


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