ORLANDO, FLA -- September 6, 2016. The day college football met the first version of Deondre Francois; the kid.
A whopping 478 total yards and a pair of touchdowns in his first college game sealed a 45-34 come-from-behind win over Ole Miss in the Camping World Kickoff.
The rest of 2016 brought much of the same. Francois went 10-3 as a starter capping his freshman season with an Orange Bowl victory over Michigan. Sophomore year was poised for something special.
"Going into 2017 against Alabama, top two teams in the country," Francois said. "There was a lot of high hopes. We were looking real solid. I was known as a tough guy going into that 2017 season because of all the hits I took in 2016 so when I took that hit and I couldn't get up it was like detrimental to me."
A routine sack from Ronnie Harrison left Francois with a tore patellar tendon in his left knee. His season was done. So was the old version of Deondre Francois.
The quarterback says he became a young man following that injury. A young man who for the last two and a half years has been through the fire.
The Orlando-native fully recovered intime for the 2018 season. A campaign the marked his return and the beginning of the short-lived Willie Taggart era.
Francois and the Noles offense struggled their way to a 5-7 season, missing a bowl game for the first time in three decades.
In February 2019, Francois was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend. No arrests were made and there were no charges.
"I was taken advantage of in that situation. Met a female. Good girl and it wasn’t a good situation for us. It was a toxic situation. It ended on bad terms but out of the whole situation, no arrests. Nothing detrimental came from that situation except for being dismissed. Being dismissed and going to Hampton was kind of a great situation for me. I like to look at the negatives of those situations and turn them into positives.”
Francois did his best to do that. He threw for 2,522 yards for the Pirates to go along with 26 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.
"All of my success was at Florida State, but the little things I learned about football came at Hampton because the guys already looked at me like Deondre Francois. They already knew who I was coming in and I got an opportunity to really lead."
Now he wants to prove he can do the same with an NFL franchise. He's spent all offseason training for the draft in the Central Florida area.
It's more than football. Deondre regularly speaks to students and upcoming athletes about decision-making and leadership.
“A lot of people say life isn’t fair but I think that’s wrong because life is fair because it’s hard on everybody. I was just telling them there’s going to be a point in your life where you hit a speed bump and you’re going to have to make a decision. You just got to be ready for that moment.”
Deondre Francois has had his moments; stellar and subpar. He's grown. The kid he used to be is now a young man. Seasoned, mature and ready to prove he can lead an NFL franchise.
"I’m a leader first. When I step into that locker room, I won’t be a problem. I won’t be an issue. I will only help a team became a better team.”