Ikaika Alama-Francis had 10 sacks in two years for UH.
Alama-Francis plays the name game
ALLEN PARK, Mich. » For the first time in his life, Ikaika Alama-Francis finds himself in a place where people have difficulty pronouncing his first name.
That was never an issue in his native Hawaii, where his football career began only four years ago at the University of Hawaii. The 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive end has made the most of his training camp experience after the Detroit Lions selected him in the second round of this year's NFL Draft.
But once he arrived in Detroit, Alama-Francis found his name to be a common problem for his Lions teammates and coaches.
"My name's been destroyed over and over again," said Alama-Francis, whose first name means brave and strong in Hawaiian. "So I just gave up on it."
So did Lions coach Rod Marinelli, who refers to the rookie as "Five-O," playing off the popular 1970s police drama set in the islands.
"He can call me whatever he wants -- he's the head coach," Alama-Francis said. "I won't say a word, I promise."
With fifth-year defensive end Dewayne White hampered by a groin injury that has kept him out of practice and veteran Kalimba Edwards fighting a nagging ankle injury, Alama-Francis has often been thrown in with the first team.
He's gotten work on the right end of the line, picking up repetitions against the Lions' starting offensive line, often matching up against veteran Jeff Backus. Marinelli, who said yesterday that Alama-Francis will start today at Cleveland, often pulls the rookie aside to demonstrate technique.
"It's good experience for me -- it's a great opportunity for me to get better," said Alama-Francis, who played predominantly right end at Hawaii. "All I'm going to do is soak in as much as I can."
The learning process has been fast for someone who didn't play football in high school. After earning first-team all-state honors in basketball and volleyball as a prep, Alama-Francis was asked to try out for Hawaii's football team by coach June Jones. He registered 88 tackles and 10 sacks in his final two seasons with the Warriors.
Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry said he likes what he has seen so far from Alama-Francis, who has demonstrated the ability to fit in despite the shortness of his exposure to football.
"You forget sometimes that the kid is 280 pounds when you just see him -- he's very smooth and athletic, Barry said. "You can't usually find big men that can run and change direction and rush the passer. He's going to continue to get better, but you know he's coming out here, working everyday and improving."
As much Alama-Francis says he has learned, he is sometimes still shocked he's here.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be here," said Alama-Francis, whose father was a backup to Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr. "But when I made that step to take football, I said, 'Why not reach for the stars?' I gave everything I had -- all my passion, all my love and that's why I am here now."