Tompkins QB Francis prepared to lead reigning district champs
Last season, Cole Francis, then a junior, spent his Thursdays quarterbacking Tompkins' junior varsity to an eventual district championship. Then he'd spend his Fridays with the varsity, going through pregame, warmups and the whole gameday experience.
So, when Francis, a 6-foot-4, 187-pound prototypical pocket passer, eventually won the varsity QB1 job this summer following the graduation of Falcons great Jalen Milroe, he was ready. Prepared. Even though he did not attempt a varsity pass last year, Francis listened, observed, and learned as Milroe directed Tompkins to an undefeated district title season.
"That experience was amazing," Francis said. "The nerves are not even close to what they used to be. Now it's just another day of football. Winning on JV and then coming up the next day and warming up with varsity and preparing with varsity and working with varsity, it becomes second nature. The game becomes so much quicker."
Francis has looked like a seasoned veteran through fall camp. He has commanded instant respect as a leader; he was voted by his teammates as a captain.
If there are any nerves or anxiety about leading a varsity team for the first time, a reigning district champ at that, or succeeding a talent like Milroe, who is now playing at Alabama, it doesn't show.
"Cole is a leader for a reason, a captain for a reason," said Bryce Shaink, a fellow captain and senior linebacker. "The offense loves him as much as the defense loves him."
Francis is a uniter for all. He has a seamless way about him that is all-inclusive.
"Cole brings a different kind of energy," said senior receiver Joshua McMillan II, another team captain. "We're all friends with him, everyone knows him. It's a different type of leadership. Cole brings us together and he knows the whole offense, so we rally around him."
Coach Todd McVey said Francis simply understands "it," leadership-wise.
"The kids see that, and we see that," McVey said.
Chemistry is something the Falcons have more of this preseason than last, simply because COVID-19 prevented social gatherings in 2020. During the summer, after strength and conditioning workouts, Francis said a lot of players hung around to help with the training of the underclassmen and then would eat and hang out at each other's houses.
Every day. Together.
That has translated onto the field, where that closeness has bred excitement and an all-for-one drive. It helps that McVey said this is one of the biggest senior classes he has had, and the leadership is almost second-to-none.
Francis will have plenty of weapons around him. McMillan, junior Matthew Ogunrin, senior Ashton Vazquez, and junior Peyton Isola provide a dynamic, versatile receiving corps. The running back position is a three-headed monster of senior Collin Marshall, and sophomores Jhase McMillan and Caleb Blocker. The defense is a relentless force with the likes of Shaink and senior defensive linemen Eti-ini Bassey and Sean DuBose Jr.
But the most important thing?
"The big thing is having our whole O-line coming back after having to rebuild it last year," Francis said. "We're coming together really well."
The ammo is there for a successful district title defense. The mindset is as well.
"It makes us work even harder," Francis said of Tompkins as the hunted opposed to the hunter. "We follow the crimson line, the standard. Last year's team set it, so we're just continuing to raise it. The bull's eye on our back just makes us push harder."