Deondre Francois wants to show the NFL again that he’s an elite quarterback
After an injury and dismissal from FSU, he got back on track at Hampton
Like hundreds of other prospects, Deondre Francois is hoping to hear his name called during the NFL draft. He’ll be watching with his family in Florida. Francois, 23, is a former four-star recruit from Orlando, Florida, and was the starting quarterback at Florida State from 2016 to 2018.
Francois finished his final season of college football at Hampton University in November. He had hoped to bring Hampton an inaugural Big South championship, but those plans went awry. The Pirates finished with an overall record of 5-7 and a conference record of 1-5. He threw for more than 2,500 yards and 26 touchdowns, but there weren’t many other bright spots last season.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day. No team just randomly goes from a losing season to undefeated in one year, and a program revival isn’t going to happen overnight,” said Francois. He also understands that football programs at Florida State and Hampton are as different as night and day. “Football hasn’t been the culture at Hampton for a number of years, lately it’s been track and basketball.”
When the season ended, Francois went home to spend time with family that he doesn’t normally get. At Florida State, he was only 3½ hours from home, but Hampton, Virginia, was the farthest he’d ever been from his kin. Orlando is an 11½-hour drive to Hampton. Francois soaked in as much love as he could from his family because he’d be back on the road again to prepare for the NFL draft.
His first stop was in Daytona, Florida, with renowned trainer Tom Shaw. Shaw is known for training the likes of NFL legends such as Tom Brady, Deion Sanders and Michael Vick. Shaw’s appeal to Francois is easy to see. To be the best, you have to train with the best.
“He’s one of the guys that’s an elite trainer,” said Francois. “And he has a lot of great guys on his resume, so I wanted to train with him.”
In January, Francois traveled nearly 5,000 miles to Hawaii to compete in the Hula Bowl, a postseason college football all-star game. The bowl features players from different teams, divisions and even countries. Francois played well, leading his team to a 23-7 victory. Following the win, he returned to Shaw for more work.
His throwing was improving and his body was getting stronger. Francois was invited to the 2020 NFL combine, but preparation came to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. Francois had planned to throw during Hampton’s pro day in mid-March and at the combine before both were canceled. Frustration flooded Francois’ mind.
“I was really angry and bummed out about it,” he said without hesitation. “But I knew I wasn’t the only one affected by it, you just have to control what you can control.”
Francois, at 6-feet-2, 205 pounds, had teams scouting him in Hawaii, but because of the cancellations, he had to send videos to teams. Now he’s waiting to see if a franchise will take a chance on him.
“I want to and I know I can play on the highest level. My film speaks for itself,” he said confidently. “If a team gives me the opportunity, then I’m going to give them everything, just like I’ve done everywhere I’ve ever gone.”
Reflecting on Hampton
Francois has a particular energy about him. He’s cool, calm and collected most times. The only signs of emotion are brief smiles or chuckles when he finds humor in things. No matter who’s around him, he never seems out of his comfort zone. It’s what his teammates love about him.
“He seems shy because he can be so quiet, but he fires people up on the field and brings in a different type of grind to the team,” said Shai McKenzie, Hampton’s starting running back last season. McKenzie is also a transfer student from the ACC. He played at Virginia Tech before coming to Hampton in 2017.
“Coming from FSU, you’d think he would have a cocky mentality, but he keeps to himself and he has one goal: to get the job done.”
After he was dismissed from Florida State because of a domestic dispute, Francois originally planned to go to Florida Atlantic University. At the time, Florida Atlantic had quarterback Chris Robison, so the Owls were hesitant to commit to him.
Top NCAA Division I programs that were once recruiting Francois had no more scholarships to hand out. He now had to pick from a pool of historically black schools that were looking his way. The schools included Tennessee State, North Carolina A&T State, Grambling State and Hampton.
“Hampton had a different atmosphere than anywhere I had ever been,” he said. “I was looking to go somewhere that was going to help me be a better person, and I felt like Hampton had a lot of good vibes around the team, the students and the overall school in general.”
The Pirates’ coaching staff was elated to have Francois, particularly quarterback coach Zach Grossi.
“As a coach, you always want to coach great talented players, and he certainly is that. They don’t make enough of them like him,” said Grossi. He smiles when talking about his former quarterback. “I met him and he has this calm confidence about him. He walks in the room and you can feel his presence before he even says a word.”
Hampton was a culture shock for Francois. At Florida State, football is a tradition; at Hampton, it is the complete opposite. The students know it, too.
“Some students don’t even know about the games on Saturday,” said Roderick McLean, a senior at Hampton and the public address announcer for two of the school’s football games last fall. “There has to be a better way of communicating to the students that the football team is playing, whether it be them showing their faces more or even having events. Students just don’t know.”
McLean said it also has to do with success on the field.
“At the same time, it has to do with winning, and when you don’t win consistently, it can be hard to fill the stands,” he said.
But while Francois would have liked to have helped increase attendance at the games, he didn’t stress over it.
“It was a humbling experience, but to even have this opportunity is a blessing in itself,” he said. “The better the team plays, the more people will come. That’s how it works.”
The road to Hampton
Francois took a winding path to Hampton Roads. He was the Florida State Seminoles’ prized quarterback recruit. As a freshman in 2016, he led Florida State to a 10-3 season and an Orange Bowl win over Michigan. The following year as a sophomore, some analysts thought he even had a shot at the Heisman Trophy. All of this came crashing down when Francois injured the patellar tendon in his left knee against Alabama in the first game of the season.
And if Francois’ injury didn’t hasten his departure, head coach Jimbo Fisher leaving near the end of the 2017 season wrecked any chance of the Seminoles recovering. They finished 7-6.
Two months after the season concluded, Francois called the police to remove a woman from his home who was allegedly destroying his belongings. However, since he and the woman legally had established residency at the apartment, the police could not remove her.
While an investigation was opened, it was quickly closed after police concluded that due to “conflicting statements and lack of independent witnesses” they were “unable to establish probable cause to make an arrest for battery.”
“Nothing came from that,” Francois said. “I called the police on her, people forget that.”
But more trouble was on the horizon.
Three months later, police seized 17 grams of marijuana during a raid of his apartment. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Tallahassee, Florida, police received a tip from a man who had been in Francois’ home. The tip resulted in an investigation, in which police examined Francois’ garbage on four separate occasions before getting a search warrant.
He was charged with misdemeanor possession but wasn’t arrested. Instead, he was offered the opportunity to be in a pretrial diversion program where the charge would be dropped if he did community service and avoided criminal activity.
The charges were eventually dropped, his life continued, football resumed and Florida State’s hope for a turnaround failed in the 2018-19 season.
“There was a lot of adjusting going on,” he said. “Most of the players that were there were recruited by Jimbo Fisher and Coach [Willie] Taggart’s style was different than what we were used to.”
The team never seemed to fully become accustomed to Taggart. Even after getting Francois back in 2018, the Seminoles never found their rhythm and ended the year 5-7.
Then a second incident occurred. Francois and the woman from the first incident were no longer seeing each other. Francois said he wanted to focus solely on football and didn’t want any potential distractions around him. To make sure nothing occurred, he said, he ended the situation. He deleted the woman’s phone number and blocked her from all social media feeds.
While at a Super Bowl party in Atlanta in 2018, he was on Instagram Live when a girl complimented him. In return, his now ex-girlfriend uploaded a video to Instagram where it sounded like someone is being hit, though the video didn’t show anything. There was only audio.
The woman later apologized for uploading the video in a lengthy post on her Instagram story, but the damage was done. He was dismissed from the Florida State team.
She said: “The sounds you hear in the video are me throwing things and hitting him … Deondre has never struck me with his hand or fist, he has never bruised me. … I just wanted closure and attention from him after we broke up, but I couldn’t get it from him, the only way to get his attention was through spiteful actions.”
However, Jordan James of 247Sports first reported that the post was falsified and the woman’s Instagram account was hacked. Her sister later published a post saying, “the statement that was posted from my sister Diimelovee [H0useofDime] page was not her … she has been hacked.”
At the time, Francois remembers people wondering why he didn’t tell his side of the story. It was simple: No one cared.
“What people don’t understand is when stuff like that hits the fan, it’s already too late. You have to let it cool down. Nobody wants to hear anything positive, in this generation everything negative is celebrated,” he said. “I said some very harsh and cruel things in that video … but the biggest thing I was upset about is it made me look like a monster, and that’s not who I am.”
Looking ahead, not back
Still, he’s not looking back on his time in Tallahassee.
“I gave my everything to FSU, my body, my blood, I did all I could,” he said. “I had my highs and I had my lows, but it’s done now.”
So who is he?
“Speaking as someone who’s personally witnessed his progression not only as a player but as a man, you can see his relationship with God is something he takes very seriously. He’s a man of honor and a leader of men,” said Jonathan Scott, a close friend of Francois. Scott first connected with Francois when they were still playing in high school. Scott’s younger brother was a huge fan of Francois’, and since then he and Scott have remained close. “If you spend enough time around him, you’ll come to find out he puts 100% in everything he does — football, relationships, all of it.”
School is included in that. Although he was dismissed from the team, he graduated from Florida State in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in social science. In December, he finished at Hampton with a master’s in sports administration.
“I love to teach. I’ve always loved that, and Coach Fisher helped me realize that,” Francois said, grinning. “I want to give back because everything that I’ve been through these last couple years, it’s bigger than me, it’ll help so many younger boys and girls,”
The most important thing Francois wants to do has nothing to do with football.
“I want to be able to provide for my family like never before,” he said. “Setting up the future for my kids and grandkids and being able to break a generational curse while starting something new with my family is what I live for.”
Francois’ collegiate career has concluded, yet the stage that awaits is much bigger, the place so many kids aspire to be. One thing is certain: If he does get the opportunity, he wants to show out in the only way he knows how. With dominance on the field.