A bright smile and a joke.
That’s all it took for him to create a relaxed atmosphere, as he interacted with the film crew saying hello and checking in with them as if it were a relative he hadn’t seen in a few months.
As he fumbled with his microphone, he made a face that said ‘You have got to be kidding me,’ bringing out laughter from those in close proximity.
As we locked eyes and introduced ourselves, I couldn’t help but notice his firm handshake as we covered a few last moment details. He was attentive, scanning the room to get acquainted and visualizing what we are about to do. He is asking questions to make sure he is in the right spot, and right before we go on camera he extends a thank you to everyone for taking the time to be with him on, what he considers to be, his “off day”.
Deondre Francois genuinely cares about people and that shows multiple times throughout our conversation.
The first time you hear the overwhelming joy in the voice of Francois is when we start to talk about his childhood.
Francois has always looked to improve his game and that is a trait that can be traced to his younger days growing up in Orlando. It didn’t matter if it was basketball, football or swim competitions at the local YMCA, Francois wanted to win. “There were a lot of athletes around the area. I was very active as a child. It was a very competitive neighborhood that I grew up in,” is how Francois described his youth sports memories. Francois went on to discuss how his neighborhood and youth sports leagues created a winning mindset as his teams always competed for the championship. “We won a lot of championships with the Orlando Outlaws in the city league and then we moved to the state league in Florida. We won a lot of championships,” Francois recalled.
While many would think Francois would have little, if any, doubt about his athletic ability due to winning an astonishing amount of youth championships, they are wrong. As Francois was about to begin to solidify himself in the high school football world, it would not be met without a moment of doubt. Francois admits this moment came when he was not sure if he was big enough to play in high school. This occurred during his transition from his 8th-grade year to high school.
Francois shared he was deciding between playing for his high school team or staying in the city league, “I was going to play little league ball because I felt like I wasn’t big enough but then the high school coaches were like ‘You’re big enough. You’re good enough. You can start on JV as a freshman,’ and that is when I knew I had the talent to throw the ball.” It was at that moment Francois put his faith in the words of his coaches, and it all came together perfectly as that was the defining moment in his football career. Collin Drafts, a former professional QB and now coach, recalls the moment he met Francois, “I saw Deondre standing off to the side watching practice during summer camp so I went over and talked to him. After a few minutes, we started to play catch as he said he was a QB. I tried to play it cool like ‘Hey, that was pretty good,’ and I immediately went over to other coaches and told them I found the QB of the future for our program.”
From there we touched on his NFL dreams and how his rise to the top of recruiting boards had him making decisions with the NFL on his mind in high school. In order to maximize his talent, Francois elected to transfer to IMG Academy, and he credits the intense environment and playing for Chris Weinke, a former Heisman Trophy-winning QB, as two factors in his overall development as a player and person.
”IMG gave me a jumpstart. I had to leave home after being a junior in high school. I had to do my senior year at IMG and it was a boarding school, so we had to stay on campus. I got that college atmosphere right away.”
Also, for Francois, IMG Academy was his first taste of playing in a pro-style offense which continued under Jimbo Fisher. When Willie Taggart came in, it was a spread-based attack and then at Hampton, under Head Coach Robert Prunty, it offered the perfect blend of spread based concepts while showcasing Francois and his ability to orchestrate an offense under center. The Hampton Pirates offense and Francois were a perfect match as he set the single-season record in pass completions and passing TDs during the 2019 season. Francois discussed how being a scheme-versatile QB was to his benefit, “I got the best of both worlds by having different coaches. My versatility with running different offenses is there. I can be in the gun, I can be under center, I can play quick game, I can do west coast offense. It really helped me enable my game and helped me differentiate myself from others.”
The skills shown during the season earned Francois an invite to the Hula Bowl in Hawaii. The Hula Bowl gave Francois a week of NFL exposure as the teams were comprised of many names familiar in NFL circles such as Rex Ryan and Mike Smith; who served as the head coaches for the week.
When reflecting on his experience at the Hula Bowl, Francois was ecstatic, “The Hula Bowl was nice. I saw a lot of guys that I played against, a lot of guys I played with coming up through football. It was just a great opportunity. It was my first time in Hawaii; great weather, great people, great hospitality. I got a chance to practice in front of NFL coaches and be around a lot of guys in the NFL. That opportunity gave me a chance to really gain my confidence and let me know I can compete with the best of the best because there’s a lot of good quarterbacks out there. We got a chance to have fun and compete with each other”.
Francois returned from Hawaii to intensely train for his Pro Day where he is putting a little extra emphasis on accuracy and decision making. Francois mentioned, “We are focused on every area we can, you know. The mental aspect of the game, at quarterback, that’s where it starts for us. But really, decision making and accuracy. Those are two things we are really trying to hone in on at Tom Shaw (DME Training Facilities in Daytona Beach). If I can master those two things, I will be fine in the long run.” NFLPA Certified Agent Bek Talipov of ProSource Sports credits the improvements to Francois with his speed, strength and conditioning to the work of Tom Shaw and is excited for that athletic profile to be unleashed at his Pro Day. When talking about what it means to be coached by Tom Shaw Francois says, “It’s special to be able to be trained by Coach Shaw because of the type of coach he is. Loving, caring and is kind to his athletes and everyone around the gym. He pushes you hard while also keeping you healthy. His previous athletes are all successful and are not only good athletes but also good people. So he cares about what kind of person you are rather than how good of an athlete you are.”
And Francois might just be fine in the long run as he possesses that must-have for every NFL QB.
The ‘it factor’.
That was the phrase that kept coming up with everyone I spoke to about Francois. Talipov and Drafts both echoed the belief. Talipov noted the ‘it factor’ can be seen in numerous ways with Francois whether it is in his anticipation or how he maneuvers in the pocket never crumbling to pressure. Drafts gravitated towards Francois from the moment they met and stated he had the “it factor from the get-go.”
The next chance Francois will have to display his ‘it factor’ will be on his Pro Day. When discussing what skills he hopes to showcase during the workout Francois specifically mentions his touch, arm strength, accuracy, pocket movement and displaying his overall love of the game. Francois goes on to give a personal assessment of his strengths when asked, and the answer is honest and enlightening as he states accuracy, decision making and mental toughness in the pocket. Francois repeats, and specifically states, an emphasis on accuracy and decision making as it relates to completions and putting the team in a better position for the next play.
As for an NFL team that selects or signs Francois they should know that they are getting a team-first, hungry player who puts a priority on winning. “A guy who is willing to sacrifice everything for the team and put the team first. A guy who wants to make the players around him better,” is what Francois says a team will get from him the moment he walks into the organization. Talipov makes note of Francois and his positive outlook and energy, “He has a positive spirit about him. He is a great human being. When NFL teams look at Deondre they are going to see a guy who is ready to step up and take the team and do whatever it takes for the team to win.”
When Talipov was asked what type of player a team will get in Francois he responded, “My opinion, they are going to get a starter. Deondre is the type of player he walks into a locker room as a competitor. He is a competitor and a great teammate. It’s good to have a balance; someone who knows how to be a leader but also someone who knows how to be a teammate on and off the field. He has a positive spirit about him. He is a great human being. NFL teams are going to see a guy that is ready to step up.”
Francois seems to be trending up as we approach the 2020 NFL Draft. He set single-season records at Hampton, earned an invite to the Hula Bowl where he had a good showing and has been training with an unbeatable coaching and training staff. With a strong Pro Day and in a wide-open QB class, Francois is a name that could sky-rocket up draft boards and find himself as a mid-round selection. Keep your eyes and ears peeled for Francois as he has an early-round skillset which he demonstrated countless times throughout his college career.
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