Maryland defensive end Francis has political ambitions

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Photo - Nick Wass/AP
Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis has 34 tackles and four sacks this season.
Nick Wass/AP Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis has 34 tackles and four sacks this season.
Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

On Election Day, Terps defensive end and aspiring governor of Maryland A.J. Francis talked of the day he discovered his political ambition.

It happened a decade ago, after a basketball tournament at a McDonald's restaurant. Francis was stepping out of his father's truck when a swarm of police cars approached. With guns drawn, officers ordered Francis and his father to lie face-down on the pavement.

Simply being two black males in a white truck made them suspects in a bank robbery that had occurred next door a few days earlier. The incident at McDonald's had come months after another in which he was mistakenly handcuffed as a suspect in a liquor store robbery.

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"At that point, I asked my dad why do things like that happen?" Francis said. "He said, 'As long as people allow it to happen, it will happen.' From that point forward I wanted to get enough power, get enough respect and ability in this state and this country to affect things that I think are wrong that should be changed."

Francis, who earned his degree in government and politics last year, interned last summer in the office of Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer.

"Every time he was on C-SPAN, I'd get four, five phone calls," Francis said. "Asking me how I could sleep at night, how I could work for a guy like Steny Hoyer, how I could cash my paycheck. I told them I'm an unpaid intern. That kind of [ticked] them off."

This season for the Terrapins, Francis is affecting change for the nation's No. 11-ranked defense (301.7 yards per game). He has 34 tackles, including eight for a loss, four sacks, five passes defended, three fumbles recovered and three blocked kicks.

At 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, he is one of the nation's biggest defensive ends. Rated No. 32 among players at his position by nfldraftscout.com, Francis has a chance to play in the NFL. If that doesn't pan out, a professional wrestling career is possible, which would help him to his next goal.

"Hopefully I can somehow become a billionaire in the next couple years," Francis joked. "If I can pull that off I could run for governor in the next 10 years."

A more realistic goal is to start his political career at the grassroots level. There's an old swimming pool in the impoverished neighborhood in which he grew up -- Pioneer City in Severn.

"It's nasty. Graffiti on the poolhouse wall. The grass is never cut. The only time people use it is when people throw barbecues in the grass over there," Francis said. "I want to turn that whole area into a park."

Wherever life takes him, Francis will make things better and brighter. He's done it this year on the Maryland football team. And perhaps one day, he will land in Annapolis, with a personality to fill historic Government House all by himself.

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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