ORLANDO — The music at Camping World Stadium during pre-game warm-ups Monday night played “Shut Up and Dance,” so Deondre Francois began dancing in between passes to the end zone.
Whip a pass, take a few dance steps. Whip a pass, dance a few more. His head bobbed to the beat as several teammates slapped his hand, and any possible nerves for his first college debut were masked by his seemingly infectious.
Jameis Winston sent a pregame text message to Francois encouraging him to smile and stay poised. “That was a big text to me because that’s what I did the whole game,” Francois said early Tuesday morning after proving to be unflappable by rallying Florida State from a 22-point deficit to beat Ole Miss.
Oh, there were moments Francois got a little shook up on the sidelines Monday night. Who can forget Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher rolling his eyes as Francois seemingly gave him the wrong answer about a decision he made.
But what transpired after those moments is why Florida State should feel great about Francois. He rose to the moment instead of wilting. He kept taking hard shots and got back up to keep winning over teammates, who had raved about Francois throughout the offseason.
“He wants to make everything perfect, wants to perfect his craft, and man, the confidence he had going in the huddle, you had no choice but to go out there and execute for him,” Seminoles running back Dalvin Cook said. “He’s gonna lay it on the line for you. He took a lot of hits today, and he got back up ready to fight again. You’ve got to be willing to lay it on the line for a guy like that.”
There’s an “it” factor with great quarterbacks. They either have a certain intangible to compete, remain poised and lead teammates during difficult times or they don’t. Florida State just benefitted in a huge way by learning for sure in Week 1 that Francois has that “it” factor as he threw for 420 yards and two scores, ran for 59 yards more and — most importantly — didn’t have a turnover.
“I was hit pretty hard,” Francois said. “I haven’t been hit since high school. Every hit was pretty hard, but that’s football. I love it. Every time I got hit, it made me want to score even more.”
Fisher challenged Francois hard during spring and summer practices. “I put the heat on him sometimes,” Fisher said in a polite version of how Francois got toughened up to be ready.
Listen to Seminoles safety Derwin James explain Fisher’s version of tough love.
“Oh, man, it was unreal and amazing to see,” James said. “I’ve got to say, in all my years playing football, I’ve never seen a coach ride a player so much to get something out of that player. He just swallows it. He doesn’t say nothing back to him. He just says, ‘Yes, sir’ and moves on to the next play. Man, I just love his game. I can say with a straight face: I don’t think nobody on this team works harder than Deondre. He’s a great leader for us.”
Francois thrived Monday when he moved outside the pocket and threw on the run. But unlike most young quarterbacks, he was comfortable checking down to easier completions. That’s why the Seminoles had two 100-yard receivers (Cook and Jesus Wilson).
Cook, in his desire to become a greater receiving threat, made seven catches for 101 yards. Imagine this new challenge for opponents to defend the Seminoles: Cook as a fantasy football PPR machine.
Francois completed 33 passes to nine different receivers. That’s more Florida State receivers grabbing receptions in a game than any time in 2015 except for the cupcake opener against Texas State.
As Ole Miss’ defenders tired by staying on the field far too long, Francois picked them apart and often on rollouts as a run-pass danger that Everett Golson lacked as the Seminoles’ quarterback in 2015. All Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze could do was watch helplessly.
“You’ve seen this in college football the last few years, where people come out of — I guess you would say not nowhere, but have not had proven games and they’re really good,” Freeze said. “I mean, they’re not sitting around and recruiting poor talent and that was obvious tonight in [Francois’] play.”
Francois was no stranger in recruiting circles after first starting at Olympia High School in Orlando before transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. 247Sports rated Francois the No. 3 pro-style quarterback in the 2015 class, behind only UCLA‘s Josh Rosen and Alabama‘s Blake Barnett and ahead of Washington‘s Jake Browning.
How coveted was Francois? Florida State fans went into a temporary meltdown a couple weeks before National Signing Day when Francois’ Twitter accounted stated, “I’m officially decommitting from the university of Florida state.”
That came after Francois visited Florida. A couple hours later, Francois posted, “I apologize for the inconvenience. It was a mistake. My Twitter account was hacked. I am still 100% committed to FSU.”
It would have been easy Monday night for Francois to get greedy and try to make up a 28-6 deficit on one series. But he didn’t force throws. He kept taking what Ole Miss gave him, displaying maturity beyond his years.
“Everybody puts ‘game manager’ as a tag that means you can’t play,” Fisher said. “That’s not true. And playmakers don’t mean that you’re wild. … What I loved about [Francois], he managed the game and when the opportunities were there for him to make plays, he did, and to me, that’s what playing quarterback is. … He made [plays] with his feet and his arms. But more importantly, he made it with his mind.”
There will be difficult times again for Francois. He is far from a finished quarterback. But he has already passed a huge test. With hit after hit, Francois kept getting up and making plays to portray an image to his teammates that the Seminoles weren’t going to lose.
“I take some of Jameis’ leadership attributes, you know, how he rallied up guys,” Francois said. “In the national championship [during the 2013 season], he was a redshirt freshman and they were down just as much as we were down [against Ole Miss]. That was a bigger stage than this.”
Francois stopped his sentence there. It’s too soon for him to publicly complete the logical thought that another redshirt freshman may lead the Seminoles to a national title. But listening and watching Francois, you sensed that’s a sentence he’s ready and able to try to complete.
Shut up and dance with me.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Deondre Francois rises to the challenge as Florida State’s title hopes soar with him