Those who saw Robert Francois play football at The Governor's Academy in 2003 may not recognize the Green Bay Packers special teams player in Super Bowl XLV.
The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Highlands, Texas, native is roughly 40 pounds heavier than when he left the Byfield campus destined for a five-year football career at Boston College.
Francois will be one of the least-likely players to play in the Super Bowl between the Packers and Steelers Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Since leaving Boston College following his fifth year in 2008, Francois went undrafted in the 2009 NFL Draft and has been waived a total of three times by three separate teams: Vikings, Lions, Packers.
The special teams player and reserve linebacker seems to have found at least a temporary home in Green Bay. Since re-signing with the team Nov. 15 after being released less than a week earlier, Francois played the final five games of the year, recording three tackles. He also appeared in all three Green Bay playoff games on special teams and was part of the kick and punt coverage teams that held Chicago Bears Pro Bowl return man Devin Hester in check during Green Bay's 21-14 win on Sunday.
As a part of the kick coverage teams, Francois helped the Packers limit the Bears to 63 return yards on four attempts (15.75 yards per return). Playing on punt coverage, Francois helped limit Hester to 16 yards on three returns (5.3 yards per return).
"(Devin Hester) is a really good player, but our game plan was the same as always," Francois said. "We wanted to get to the ball and make tackles, and that's what we did. We shut him down. That was a huge key to the game. Most of the Bears' production comes off special teams. It jump-starts their offense."
Francois took a few minutes out of his pre-Super Bowl schedule yesterday to share a few more thoughts with The Daily News.
Can you believe you're going to the Super Bowl after all of the ups and downs of your short NFL career?
"It's good, really good. Right now, I'm relaxing before we start practicing in the next few days. We take off on Monday to go down to Dallas."
When did you start to feel as if this was a Super Bowl-caliber team?
"I always felt like we should be in the Super Bowl. We have good players, and I'm confident in the team. It shows out there on the field."
What's been the highlight of the season so far?
"Last game was pretty much the biggest highlight. Our defense played very well. (Fellow Boston College alumnus) B.J. Raji had the interception return for a touchdown. We held them to a stop in the last few seconds of the game. The NFC Championship is the biggest highlight so far."
How do the Packers match up with the Steelers?
"It's going to be a defensive game, I think. Obviously, they're the top-rated defense in the league. It's going to come down to who can stop the other team the most."
Do you know what your role will be in the Super Bowl?
"Not yet — probably special teams, but hopefully some plays on defense."
How many tickets will you get for the game?
"I'm not even sure yet. I'll find out tomorrow."
Have you had a lot of ticket requests?
"Yeah, mostly friends and family."
What have you heard about the trip to Dallas?
"Hopefully it's warmer weather. We've been playing in cold weather, so getting in some warm weather will be good for me. I'll be going back home; I'm from outside of Houston. I'll get some good food and see my family."
Have you played in Cowboys Stadium yet?
"No, we played them up here this year. I don't know what it's like. Some games, the punters complain that they can hit the video screen. Hopefully that doesn't happen. Watching on TV, I can see the big, huge screen, and it seems like a nice place to play."
What will you do to celebrate if you win the Super Bowl?
"I have no clue. Whatever comes up, I'll go with the flow."
Who are your close friends on the team?
"I hang out with everybody. I played with B.J. Raji in college. I hang with the linebackers on the team. It's a pretty good team as far as getting along with each other. It's really laid-back and friendly."
Do you miss New England?
"School and football was fun at BC. I miss the coaches."
Did The Governor's Academy help prepare you for the NFL?
"Obviously, I had to improve a lot after high school. I did enough in high school to get into college. You have to improve every year as a football player, so that was one of the pieces of the puzzle."
What did you think of (Bears quarterback) Jay Cutler's injury in the last game? Were you surprised by the criticism directed at him by other players?
"I was shocked when it happened. I didn't know why the backup was in there. After the game, I found out he hurt his knee. When a guy hurts his (medial collateral ligament), there's not much you can do. As a quarterback, you can't plant that leg. He probably felt he couldn't make the throws. There was a lot of trash-talking, but it's his situation. You can't say what you'd do unless you're in that situation."
Who's the best player you've faced?
"I don't know off the top of my head. I don't go into games thinking a certain player is the best. I know that I can play and produce."
Does Pittsburgh have a good special teams unit?
"They have good speed guys back there — no one like Devin Hester. But in the NFL, everybody is good."
What surprised you about the NFL after you entered the league?
"I had good insight from talking with older guys from BC who are in the league. There's not much I didn't expect."
Do you have any plans for Dallas besides playing in the game?
"I treat it as a business trip. If we win, obviously I'll do some partying. Before the game, I'll just relax, get my mind right and get ready for the game."
Do you have a prediction for the game?
"I have no clue — as long as we win."