TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – It took about eight minutes Sunday for a reporter to ask Jimbo Fisher to compare his current redshirt freshman quarterback to the last redshirt freshman quarterback to start at Florida State. You know – that redshirt freshman starting quarterback. “I don’t ever compare players,” Fisher said. “It’s unfair to compare Jameis. It’s unfair to compare to Deondre.” Still, that the question even came up illustrates the type of spotlight that could await Deondre Francois in a few weeks.
Fisher has yet to name a starting quarterback for Florida State’s 2016 season. But with fifth-year senior Sean Maguire due to miss at least the season opener while recovering from foot surgery, all signs point to Francois.
And the last time FSU started a highly touted redshirt freshman, the season ended with a crystal football and a sea of confetti.
No pressure, Deondre.
“That’s why I came to Florida State,” Francois said. “To be in that position.”
But also to be himself.
Fisher insisted that Francois’ best path to success is to pave his own. And not get lost in trying to be Jameis Winston. Or, for that matter, Christian Ponder or EJ Manuel or anyone else.
Francois, for his part, seems to have no issues in that regard, having arrived at FSU as the No. 1-ranked dual-threat quarterback prospect in the recruiting class 2014.
He did, however, share a piece of advice that Winston offered during a brief meeting between the two.
“He told me to stay humble and continue to trust the process,” Francois said. “And continue to do what Coach Fisher asks me to do.”
During his Sunday press conference, Fisher reeled off all the ways in which Francois has done just that.
He praised Francois’ mental approach, noting that he always comes to practice prepared while still allowing himself to be coached and directed.
And he said that Francois has the physical abilities to match, both with his arm and his legs.
“He can make all the throws,” Fisher said. “There’s not a part of the field he can’t reach. He does a great job (handling) the blitz – really good job with the blitz.”
And, over the past few days, Francois aced a test with one of his teammates, too.
While Maguire’s injury cleared Francois’ path to the top of the depth chart, it also sent a shockwave throughout the locker room.
With a combination of selflessness, toughness and confidence, Maguire has over the past few years become one of the most admired players on the roster.
He entered fall camp with hopes of taking the reins for good, only to see those hopes dashed – at least for the next month – after less than a week. That the injury came almost immediately after he returned from a fracture in his opposite ankle made the news even harder to swallow.
“The past few days have been pretty devastating for me and my family,” Maguire said Sunday.
But what could have been an awkward situation between Maguire and Francois instead turned into a positive interaction, with Francois offering Maguire his support and Maguire pledging to do all he can to bring out the best in his younger counterpart.
“Deondre was heartfelt for me,” Maguire said. “He was so sorry for the injury. I told him, ‘I’m going to be there for you.’”
“It was hard to see a fellow brother go through an injury, but this is the game and that’s the way it is,” Francois said. “Sean’s a great guy.”
History suggests that Maguire will have a role to play this season, whether as a reserve or as an eventual starter.
For now, though, all eyes are on Francois.
Should he start for the Seminoles against Mississippi on Sept. 5, Francois will make his debut at Camping World Stadium in Orlando – the same stadium he sometimes played in during his early days at Orlando’s Olympia High School.
It would be a big stage (incidentally, a stage he performed on earlier this year during FSU’s Garnet and Gold Game), but one for which he feels he’s well ready.
“I don’t think the lights will be too bright,” Francois said. “I believe in my preparation.”
Francois also has the confidence that comes after a redshirt year that he counts as a blessing.
According to Randy Sanders, FSU’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the extra time spent learning Fisher’s offense has since paired perfectly with Francois’ natural abilities.
“It did give him a chance to step back, watch how things are done, watch how things happen,” Sanders said. “… Hopefully when he gets his chance and gets out on the field, he understands it better so the game can slow down for him.”
The next few weeks, however, are likely to move pretty fast.
Florida State faces Ole Miss exactly three weeks from Monday and, named the starter or not, both Fisher and Sanders said that Francois will be taking full first-team reps moving forward.
It’s a big moment for Francois, but he said he’s not planning to change anything about his preparation. As far as he’s concerned, he’s still competing for a job.
“I’ll never say it’s my offense,” Francois said, “until Coach Fisher tells me it’s my offense.”