Undaunted by being a legacy, Sam Francis has carved his own niche in the Augustana football program.
But it hasn't always been easy.
After not seeing playing time as a freshman, Francis has been plugged into three different defensive positions for the Vikings the last three seasons and has accepted each role with an open mind and a willingness to fill the old adage of doing what's best for the team.
“I definitely had to make some role adjustments to get on the field,” Francis said with a wry smile as he talked about his career.
This year, he is back to being a linebacker — what he calls his natural position — filling the role on the weak side of the field for the 2-1 Vikings.
He started his career as a middle linebacker, where he saw playing time as a sophomore. With the emergence of All-CCIW selection Luke Sawicki in the middle, Francis was bumped into the defensive line last season, as he mirrored a position played by his dad, Scott, from 1982-85 during the Vikings' run of national dominance. Scott was an All-CCIW first team defensive tackle in his senior season.
That tie to Augustana was just part of how Sam ended up in Rock Island after a stellar prep career at Oak Park River Forest High School in Chicagoland.
“The bond that my dad had with all of his buddies and them making trips to my house,” Sam said of being exposed to the school and football program. “We live pretty close to Chicago, so anytime anyone was going into Chicago, he's got his Augie buddies stopping by. Hearing their stories, the constant laughter and all the memories they had made me definitely want to come to Augie.”
Still, it wasn't a slam dunk that he would be a Viking as he also looked at league rival Illinois Wesleyan as a potential college choice. But it was his own decision.
“My dad was pretty chill about it,” Sam said about deciding his own college future. “He definitely had an Augie bias, but he let me make my own decision, which was nice. I'm glad the way it turned out.”
That's despite the fact that the program has been in a rebuild all four years and he has bounced around positions — including the defensive line, where he played last year as an undersized 5-11, 225-pounder.
“He was pretty dang good at it,” Augie coach Steve Bell said of Francis playing the line. “He was undersized but effective at times, and that's a credit to him.”
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Francis said the line wasn't his first position choice, but he stepped up and filled that role, doing what was best for the team.
“It was tough,” he admitted. “We had a pretty banged up interior, so .... I understand leverage pretty well. They threw me in there and it kind of worked out and I was able to rush the passer decently. It was fun, too.”
He finished his junior season with 25 tackles and was fourth on the team in both tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (4.5).
So far this season, Francis has nine tackles and a pass breakup.
But he has proven to be a player defined by more than his stats.
“First of all, he is a great kid and comes from a really good family,” said Bell. “He wants to please, wants do well and is a hard-working kid. That foundation is there. He's really a team guy.
“At the end of the day, through all of that, the team is what mattered the most to him. … He kept working, took whatever role he had and did well with it and now has earned the right to play.”
Some of that stems from his relationship with second-year defensive coordinator Dick Maloney.
“He's given me a better understanding of the game and helped simplify the defense so we don't have to do too much thinking,” Francis said of Maloney's defensive approach.
Still, the finance and economics major, who eyes a future in wealth management, is thinking his circuitous rout to a starting role has been worth it.
“Absolutely,” he said. “Sophomore year (a 1-9 record) was brutal, but the relationships I've made with this squad and coaches have been awesome. I've learned a ton about football and met some of my best friends. I wouldn't trade it for anything, regardless of record.”