Deondre Francois is such a wonderful name. It’s so regal. He’s not an ordinary DeAndre or the more elegant De’Andre, though it’s just as elusive. He’s no Deiondre either.
Deondre is one of a kind among star players. It’s a name so rare, search results for it only lead to the Florida State quarterback. The Rivals.com database only lists seven other FBS players to ever have the name, out of tens of thousands of players.
The surname is where the magic is, though. Francois, the French equivalent of Francis. The name sounds suited for a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a monarch, a painter, a surrealistic writer or a charming immigrant whom you meet just as you’re ready to give up on love. The name of a pretentious food critic. It’s such a stereotypically French name, one someone would use to mock a friend for being too snobby.
Oh, these Tim Horton croissants aren’t good enough for you? Look at Francois! Maybe we’ll go to a French-ass restaurant next time.
I have a great emotional attachment to the name Francis and all versions of it.
My paternal grandfather’s name was Francis. He was such a great man in my village that even now, 25 years after his death, stories of his deeds are still told with such vividness, as if they happened days ago. Apparently he once subdued a thief by throwing and impaling the robber with a machete in total darkness.
He died a few months after I was born in 1991. I don’t remember him, and because villages in Imo State, Nigeria in the early '90s didn’t have convenient flash photography, I’ve never seen a picture of him. But I know him very well. Igbo people believe in one God, thanks in part to colonialism, but a lot of mysticism remains. We believe in numerous other deities and spirits, such as the god of thunder (Amadioha). There is also belief that the ancestors are responsible for the rain (I can confirm this is true, because I’ve seen the rain stop on command and then restart after another), harvest, health and children. Shrines are often made to honor these ancestors and protectors.
We also believe in reincarnation. My father told me very early on that I am the second life of his father. If I got in trouble, he called me by my full name. If I got into really big trouble, if the school or police called the house, he called me by my grandfather’s full name. And when he was so exasperated with my behavior that it almost brought him to tears, he asked me what my son has done to deserve such punishment. ‘Tu fui, ego eris. I was what you are. I am what you will be.’
There’s also the fact that when one of my favorite soccer players cheated on his wife, he decided that he would lie to his mistress about his real identity. He told her that he was a successful car salesman rather than an athlete, and the only name he could think of, that was fitting for a rich Ivorian car salesman who lived in England, was Francois. I don’t condone adultery but I’m always here for idiocy and hilarity. So as you can see, the name is really emotional for me.
Ole Miss was surprisingly beating down Florida State. Being fairly sadistic and not nearly satisfied from the Oklahoma and LSU debacles, I was obligated to tune in.
It was right before halftime and sheesh. Even Jameis Winston was staring into the void as Ole Miss QB "Swag" Kelly did whatever he wanted against the No. 4 team.
Florida State scored a touchdown before the half ended to put the score at 28-13. It was a great 16-yard pass from Francois to Travis Rudolph, but the play could also moonlight as a set-up by the offensive line, to pay Francois back for some prior transgression.
Ole Miss defensive end Marquis Haynes walked right through and hit Francois so hard that the quarterback had to be held up and assisted off the field by his teammate after.
I had fallen in love with him just because of something as simple and silly as his name (if this seems immediate, consider that I asked my first girlfriend out solely because her name was Frances, and it’s no more silly that hating/loving players because they’re on a certain team), but it was solidified by watching him take that hit, throw the touchdown, and walk to the sideline dazed and confused.
He kept taking shots like that after the half. It got to the point that I started wincing and jumping every time he dropped back, as if I was the one being chased by 300-pound linemen. One hit in the fourth quarter saw him land on his left knee, and he was noticeably limping for the rest of the game. I cursed out the line, the defenders, the coach, all the ancestors, and the weather gods for leaving him so exposed. It had reached the point of fandom where my happiness was intertwined with his success.
After the game, he said every hit made him want to score more. He should have thrown 20 touchdowns by the looks of it, then.
Playing through injury is, of course, stupid. It plays into the weak masculinity and warrior mentality that the game of football loves, and it often ends badly for the player. He’s risking his career for one game. It’s short-sighted, but at that moment, I decided I would follow this young man to the ends of the earth. There’s no way I can watch someone foolishly chase after dreams at the detriment of health without pretty much falling in love.
The commentators, seeing his body repeatedly hit the floor, emphasized his "toughness," while relaying the story of his life.
The toughness to survive his childhood, growing up without a father, to a mother who had five kids by the age of 22. The pressure of it all had seen her send Deondre and his sister to live with her mother for a few years. It’s the toughness to survive poverty, street violence, and the presence of drugs. The toughness to make it out alive, when plenty of boys just as talented as him have died. What’s a few hits or an Ole Miss defense to a kid who’s made it through that?
The way this trope is trotted out can be perverse, considering Francois survived all that just to play for free, but it’s an excellent technique to infuse emotion in a violent game. His story and others like it are the The American Dream ideal.
But he is tough. The kid is made out of steel. He played through an obvious injury and a satirical portrayal of an offensive line. He led FSU back from a 22-point deficit to win. He did it while throwing and running impressively in his first college start. He did it in his hometown, Orlando, in front of Winston, in the large shadow that Winston casts, and against Kelly, the more celebrated quarterback coming in.
The fun part of watching young athletes is that they’re not really supposed to be good.
They often make silly mistakes. Any good assessment is followed by "needs to get better at …"
Most of the time, they must rein in their urge to do too much. What you look for, then, are the flashes of genius, their highest points, so you know how far they can go, and then you plan your emotional turmoil accordingly. After that, you hope proper coaching will help them reach that potential.
Francois had a hell of a first game, an absurd one, considering how the other team’s far more experienced quarterback did. He played so well that he made me forget that you can’t trust anyone with two first names. That’s real talent.
For better or worse, and because of namesake and bleeding-heart purposes, I’ve decided to join him on the ride. The first chapter was torturous, and I might end up dead by midseason, but so far, so good.