TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Ever since their days as prep stars in Orlando, Jacques Patrick has known Deondre Francois to be unflappable and even-keeled.
So it hardly comes as a surprise that Patrick sees Francois emerging into a more natural leader as he enters his second year as Florida State’s starting quarterback.
Still, Patrick can’t help but break into a smile when asked about his longtime friend and roommate.
“It’s just crazy,” Patrick said after practice Thursday. “From last year to this time, this year, he’s so cool, calm and collected out there. Everyone just gravitates to him. He’s our leader and everybody looks to him.”
It’s a role that Francois is ready to embrace.
Not only is he Florida State’s first returning starter at quarterback since Jameis Winston in 2014, but he’s also one of the few holdovers from an offense that this fall must replace key contributors at running back, receiver and on the offensive line.
That, of course, starts with superstar running back Dalvin Cook, who re-wrote both single-season and career rushing records before declaring for the NFL draft at the end of last season.
But it also includes two veteran linemen (Roderick Johnson, Kareem Are) and three standout receivers (Travis Rudolph, Kermit Whitfield, Jesus Wilson).
All of a sudden, Francois has evolved from fresh-faced newcomer to steadying hand on an offense that’s long on talent but a little short on experience in some positions.
“We are still the Seminoles,” Francois said. “It is still a full team effort. I am going to miss Dalvin, but he reached his peak and had to go. A lot of the young guys are stepping up and it should be fun.”
Francois has good reason to feel confident. As a redshirt freshman in 2016, he started all 13 games, engineered the largest come-from-behind victory in school history and performed on some of college football’s biggest stages.
Along the way, he threw for 3,350 yards and scored 25 touchdowns (20 passing, five rushing) en route to ACC rookie of the year honors.
“He’s gone out there when the lights on the scoreboard mattered and played in big games and won big games,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He put us in a position to win a lot of football games. He did it under big time situations, and that always gives you confidence.”
So does entering the huddle knowing his job is secure.
A year ago, Francois entered a three-way quarterback race with Sean Maguire and J.J. Cosentino that stretched past spring, through the summer into fall camp.
Francois and Maguire, then a fifth-year senior, were considered neck-and-neck when Maguire injured his foot early in fall camp.
Francois then seized the job and never let go.
Fast forward a few months, and Francois is entrenched at the top of the depth chart.
Cosentino, a redshirt junior, has the inside track to be FSU’s top quarterback reserve, with freshman Bailey Hockman and walk-on Jake Rizzo also in the mix.
But don’t bother telling that to Francois, who insists that nothing has changed – he’s still competing in practice as if there is a challenger breathing down his neck.
“I feel like, at all times, I have to compete with myself,” he said. “I may not have to compete against anyone else, but I have to compete internally. If I am tired, I have to keep going. Every ball has to be perfect, the next play has to have no mistakes.
“I am just trying to compete with myself to get better.”
Fisher hopes that attitude rubs off on Francois’ teammates, many of whom are engaged in position battles of their own this spring.
“When he puts his influence on the other guys – and hopefully that is what he is trying to do and what he’s been doing – it makes it hard for them not to play the same way,” Fisher said.