You could call him the accidental Canadian linebacker.
When Kevin Francis first tried out for the CFL, he thought of it as a chance to extend his football career, and hadn’t thought that his Canadian passport mattered.
But boy did it.
Francis said at the end of the work out the team, who he did not name, but wasn’t the Roughriders, asked the group of them if they had passports and where they were born.
“I was like ‘Canada’ and he was like ‘DUDE, it’s pretty important that you were born in Canada,'” he laughed. “I didn’t think nothing of it.”
That’s because he spent so little time in his home country. Born in Toronto, he and his family moved to New York when he was two years old. He grew up in the US and attended college at North Carolina A&T, playing receiver.
In a league where every team is required to field a certain number of Canadians, Francis’ passport was a revelation for CFL teams.
Francis entered the supplemental draft in 2016 and the Roughriders picked him, giving up their third-round pick in the 2017 draft in exchange.
For head coach and general manager Chris Jones, the decision was a no-brainer as soon as he saw Francis in action.
“We were very fortunate, I watched the film of his special teams like two nights prior to the supplemental draft,” Jones explained. “I got him to fly over there to my hometown and tried him out and then when I saw what a specimen he was I thought ‘I got to be able to put him somewhere.'”
In fact, Francis ended up in several places for the Roughriders.
The six-foot-five inch tall, 220 pound Francis was converted from his college position as a receiver to defensive back by Jones in the 2016 season. Francis then played several games at safety before finding a home as a linebacker late in the season.
“From receiver to defence was a little bit of a change, but I was always physical and always aggressive so it wasn’t that big a deal for me,” Francis said.
That aggressiveness served him well in the will (weak side) linebacker spot and his coach has noticed.
“(We) didn’t know a guy that moved from receiver and playing offence his whole career in college, whether he’d be physical enough to play in the box and he answered the bell last year and showed that he was,” Jones said.
It is just Francis’ second year in the league however, with limited reps in the linebacker spot, so Jones also admitted there is a bit of a learning curve for him yet.
“He’s a real raw athlete and instincts sometimes aren’t there, but the more he sees and the more that he plays, the better he’ll get.”
More time at linebacker suits Francis just fine as he feels he’s finally found a home there.
“Not in my wildest dreams did I think I was going to play linebacker,” he admitted. “But I was excited. I was excited when I found out and I wasn’t scared at all. I didn’t shy away from, I embraced the role.”
He’s also embraced his birth country.
“This is home,” he said.
INJURIES PILE UP
– According to Riderville.com 11 players didn’t practice today due to injury:
– Samuel Eguavon, Kienan LaFrance, Jonathan Newsome, Tobi Antigha, Ivan Brown, Ricky Collins Jr., Spencer Moore, Marc Glaude, Gary Wilkins, Jorgen Hus and Josh Bartel
– Brendon LaBatte, Ed Gainey and Willie Jefferson left practice early, but Jones said LaBatte will be okay and was available for media interviews after practice. The status of Gainey and Jefferson is not known.
Despite leaving practice early, Ed Gainey intercepted Kevin Glenn Thursday and ran it back for a touchdown, much to the delight of the fans in the crowd at Griffiths Stadium.