SB FILE / OCTOBER 2005
Ikaika Alama-Francis had five sacks last season, most among Warriors returning for the 2006 season.
Alama-Francis born for football
Despite finding the sport late, the son of a former Packer is gaining notice nationally
When Ikaika Alama-Francis was a little boy, he never bragged about being the son of an NFL player.
First, it's not in his nature to do so. Plus, it would have been difficult, considering he didn't know anything about Joe Francis' gridiron history.
"My dad's a quiet person. I had no idea until I was playing Pop Warner and I started hearing stories," Alama-Francis said. "When I got into basketball at Kalaheo (High), I learned more about it. I heard all the stories about what a tremendous athlete he was. Some from my mom and many other people around. Everyone except him. He's always been a humble guy, very quiet."
Before his career was shortened by injuries, Joe Francis was a backup quarterback for the Green Bay Packers during their glory years of the late 1950s and early 1960s, during the era when Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr led them to wins in the first two Super Bowls.
Francis returned to Hawaii, where he was the longtime football coach and a P.E. teacher at Pearl City High, retiring five years ago. He also coached at Pac-Five, running innovative offenses at both programs.
When he was a youngster, Alama-Francis spent his time on video games and cartoons, so his father's football-playing past never came up.
"He was in his own world," said Francis, who also starred at Kamehameha and Oregon State. "I never told him about it, he never heard about it. I never saw any reason to bring it up because he wasn't interested in football.
"Later, my friends would talk, and that kind of opened up his eyes. I think he was around 11 years old. Then he started to play Pop Warner (football) at Pearl City, and he had some success. They needed someone to pass the ball, so they put him at quarterback. It kind of piqued his interest."
But not that much. By the time Alama-Francis got to Kalaheo High, he was a basketball player first and a volleyball player second.
Football? He played it on a computer screen, if at all. That didn't stop University of Hawaii coach June Jones from offering him a scholarship anyway, based on his potential.
After a stellar high school basketball career, the 6-foot-5 Alama-Francis walked on to the UH basketball team. He played as a freshman forward in 2002-03, getting mostly mop-up minutes at the end of blowouts.
That spring, Alama-Francis showed up for spring football practice.
"He came home one day and said, "I'm going to try football,'" his father said. "I said, 'Go ahead.' He said, 'I already did.'"
Francis said he had some doubts at first that his 220-pound son could grow into an effective college football player.
"When I watched him play basketball I didn't think he was overly physical, a skinny kid," Francis said. "I figured football? He's got to be a little more physical than what he showed in basketball.
"Then I watched him on the scout team, and I saw the kid had the motor going. Sometimes he was pretty decent."
Alama-Francis increased his bulk (by some 70 pounds) and his strength, and soaked up enough knowledge to become a starter at defensive end last year in UH's 3-4 scheme.
"I think I have the tools to be a good defensive end," Alama-Francis said. "I think I've just got to keep getting better technique, and get a little more physical. If I can do those things I can be better.
"I just try to play the hardest I can every play and hope for the best. I try to stay under control and read the offense."
When the Warriors start their season Sept.. 2 at Alabama, Alama-Francis will be UH's leading returnee in sacks, with five last year. He is on the watch list for the Ted Hendricks Award, given annually to the nation's best defensive end.
"Jerry (defensive coordinator Glanville) and I both said last year we didn't have anyone as good as him in the NFL," Jones said. "I think he's a first-day draft pick."
Defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said he'd never seen another end with "the combination of speed, size, flexibility and tenacity" in 14 seasons of college and pro coaching.
"It's even more incredible when you break it down by the number of snaps he played going into last season -- less than 50 snaps," Reinebold said. "That is amazing that a kid with that little experience could accelerate to being mentioned among the best at his position.
Jones and strength and conditioning coach Mel deLaura said Alama-Francis is among the hardest weight room workers on the team. He's up to 290 pounds.
"He has an unquenchable thirst for work," Reinebold said. "And he learned from his father to respect the game and to play hard. If anybody should take credit for his development, it has to be dad Joe. Joe really lit a fire in him early in his life, not about football, but doing the right thing and being the right kind of guy."
Jones chose Alama-Francis to represent the Warriors at this week's Western Athletic Conference Media Day in Boise. His intriguing story and potential and personable demeanor should make him a popular interview subject.
"I really think the kid can sell ice cubes to Eskimos. He has me buffaloed sometimes," Francis said of his son. "But everything he has he's earned. I don't know how far he'll go, but I wish him all the luck. He came from a tomato can, and he's working toward a consommé."
One of Francis' best friends from the Packers glory days is Jerry Kramer, who lives near Boise. Alama-Francis regrets that he won't have time to meet up with the Hall of Famer on this quick trip.
"My dad's told me a lot about Jerry Kramer and his other buddies from Green Bay ... only since I started playing football," Alama-Francis said.