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Florida State’s Deondre Francois aims to turn growing pains into gains

Joey Johnston



MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30: Florida State Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois (12) rushes for a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Michigan Wolverines in the Orange Bowl on December 30, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL. Florida State defeated Michigan 33-32. (Photo by Douglas Jones/Icon Sportswire)
Photo by Douglas Jones/Icon Sportswire

There was plenty to like about the first-year performance of Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois, who helped the Seminoles to a 10-win season and a victory at the Orange Bowl in 2016. He led the nation’s freshmen in passing (3,350 yards) and realistically put his team in position to win every game but one (Louisville 63, FSU 20).

Now it’s on to 2017.

The best part about that?

The growing pains are done.

Francois is a veteran. It’s his second season as the starter. His physical skills remain a given. But now he has a better idea of how to use them.

“He understands how to win, how to play in big moments,’’ Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said during this week’s ACC Football Kickoff event at Charlotte, N.C. “I think our team has such respect for him. When he says things and does things, they respond. He’s doing a great job of communicating to his teammates and getting them to come along with him.’’

Francois can use a little more cooperation from his offensive line.

Last season, the Seminoles allowed 36 sacks (tied for 17th highest nationally). At times, Francois took a pounding. He impressed everyone with his toughness. But after a while, that got old. Every Seminoles fan would much prefer for Francois to be standing upright and not having to leave the game with injury.

Um, he prefers that, too.

“I don’t plan on taking as many hits,’’ Francois said. “Just polishing up my game, polishing up my protections, getting the ball out quicker, understanding the game.

“I feel like from my redshirt freshman season to my redshirt sophomore season, the game has slowed down. I feel like just studying more film, knowing more ways that I can get the ball out quicker, will prevent more hits.’’

Fisher said he knows Francois will be better. For one thing, Francois weathered his freshman season and finished on an upbeat note, avoiding a severe meltdown or crisis. That alone sets the stage for higher success.

Despite the talent of any quarterback, Fisher said it’s imperative for them to make a positive first impression.

“Once you lose confidence, it’s a hard thing,’’ Fisher said. “I think you can lose a guy before you make a guy. You have to be very controlled in how you call plays and the situations you put him in.

“Having the right people around really makes a difference. Some guys can adapt to it and take it all early. But very few can. I think one of the key things is making sure they are in positions to have success early so their confidence grows.’’

Francois has blossomed to the point where he can take on more responsibility. And he will need to do that since the backfield is transitioning from Dalvin Cook to less experienced running options.

“What I love about Deondre, he allows himself to be coached and allows you to take those steps with him, and I think our team gained tremendous respect for him,’’ Fisher said. “When guys are so talented when they come in, they think of physical things. But at the end of the day, the ability to compete, to learn how to compete, to learn how to process the game and know how to come back (from taking a pounding), that makes the difference.

“That’s what Deondre understands and knows how to do. Moving forward, he’s going to be even better.’’

And that’s good news for the Seminoles, who have designs on winning a national championship.

The growing pains are done. Now it’s on to the growing gains.


Joey Johnston has spent more than three decades covering sports at The Tampa Tribune and Tampa Bay Times. He has covered events such as the Super Bowl, World Series, Final Four, Stanley Cup Finals, the NBA playoffs, and the U.S. Tennis Open, but his heart rests with college sports. He has covered 11 BCS Championships and is excited than this season’s College Football Playoff championship game will be held in Tampa, his hometown. Joey, who also covered college sports for NBC Sports.com during a 12-year stint, has won seven Associated Press Sports Editors writing awards in the past 10 years, including second place nationally for feature writing and third place nationally for breaking news, both in 2014. He is a co-author of “Tales From the Bucs Sideline,’’ a history of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.