He is a rookie and a veteran at the same time. The high-motor Canadian-born, American linebacker Kevin Francis must prove in front of the Lions front office and coaching staff that his gifted body frame is an asset to the team in 2022.
Francis was supposed to cross paths with the BC Lions in 2020 when the club added him to the roster before the CFL season was cancelled. Having a connection with head coach Rick Campbell when Francis suited up for the Ottawa REDBLACKS back in 2019 made it the right decision all along to land in British Columbia.
“Honestly, we had a pretty good relationship. He liked what he saw, he was going to see if he can get me over here and I was on board. Then we had a GM change and COVID hit, I ended up going back to Saskatchewan,” Francis recalled.
He was a CFL Supplemental Draft pick back in 2016 when Chris Jones and the Saskatchewan Roughriders at the time were intrigued by his body frame. Then Jones convinced Francis that he has potential as a safety.
“I think it was my size and speed that caught their attention. I was coming out of college, I was six-foot-five, 220 pounds. I was able to run 4.5 on my 40-yard dash. Then my intangibles, as way as my lateral movement, the way I was jumping, coach Jones gave me the opportunity,” he recalled.
“It was a blessing because I had the opportunity to work out with the New York Jets and did a workout with Winnipeg. It went well with Winnipeg, I was going to come back to Canada for rookie camp, but I had to go through the supplemental draft. I had no idea what it was and then Saskatchewan had a pick and rolled with it.”
During his first stint with the Saskatchewan Roughriders back in 2016, Francis said a few injuries on the roster shuffled him to the linebacker position where he has been playing since.
Now a few years later in the CFL, the 28-year-old said he has been moving well. He currently stands at six-foot-six and 239 pounds during the 2022 BC Lions Training Camp.
“As time went on, I started eating more and lifting more. I feel better than I did, and I was able to maintain the same speed,” he said.
Francis has been a vegetarian for four years, with a vision to transition to pescatarian, slowly incorporating fish back into his diet.
Before he’s being truly utilized as a linebacker on the field and putting on the extra pounds, the Toronto-born, and Brooklyn raised multi-positional and sports athlete praised his mom and older brother for raising him the right way in times that weren’t always the best conditions.
“Brooklyn made me who I am. We had the things we need to make sure I was brought up the right way, so I owe it all to them. It wasn’t always easy,” he said.
Francis was a quarterback at Brooklyn’s James Madison High School. But in the end, he chose North Carolina A&T to play receiver and tight end for four seasons.
His athletic body frame also allured the Aggies’ track and field program. Francis ended up competing as a hurdler for two years at his now alma mater.
“Predominately, I was a hurdler. I only did it for about two years. I was blessed to become ranked when I was in college, and I had to choose if I was going to continue hurdling. I chose football. I’m glad I made that decision,” he said.
“Every time I go back to my college, I end up seeing my track coach and he’s surprised how much bigger I got. He’s like, ‘Man, I finally filled out into my frame.’”
Playing multiple positions on the gridiron has helped Francis process the game easier as he was juggling between two different sports. As a defensive player, he can react to the offence quicker as he once took many snaps under centre in high school.
Now the versatile linebacker will have to prove his worth on this Lions team with a mix of experienced and talented tacklers like Bo Lokombo and Jordan Williams.
Francis is entering his sixth season in the CFL, his first year with the Lions. He said it’s a mixed feeling of being a veteran and a rookie at the same time.
“I knew some guys from playing around the league, but I feel like a rookie again,” Francis chuckled.
Francis was also a teammate with Loucheiz Purifoy back in Saskatchewan and Dominique Rhymes when they played together in Ottawa. Although he’s surrounded by new faces, Francis added that he enjoys the feeling to prove himself again.
“I want to be in a position where I’m the most impactful. It’s not often you find 6’6’’ guys that can run so I feel like I’m in a good position to let my coaches, TB (Travis Brown) and RP (Ryan Phillips) put me in the best spot and I’m just going to roll with it,” he said.
“We have some really good Canadian talent. Jordan does what he does, Bo brings what he brings. And I feel like I bring a different dynamic as well.”
Francis travelled to Calgary with the team this past weekend for a pre-season matchup against the Stampeders. He and the rest of the team will return to BC Place this Friday, June 3, to face his former team, the Saskatchewan Roughriders for the second pre-season game of 2022.
“Making players around me better, and winning the little battles, the stuff behind the scenes to put in the work and being a leader to have younger players look up to me. I feel like that’s going to rub off and translate onto the field,” he said.