LONDON GROVE >> Avon Grove’s Kevin Francis has been building something on the field this season for the Red Devils.
But, away from his gaudy stats and a surprising 3-0 Ches-Mont League start for his squad, Francis has been building something else, too.
“I’ll tell you this, he had metal shop last year and he went and built this barbecue and probably could have sold it for $500,” said Avon Grove head coach Harry O’Neill. “I saw him putting it in his car one day and I go ‘What’s that?’ and he says, ‘Oh, I made it in metal shop.’
“I was like, ‘That thing’s awesome, can I have it?’”
While Francis clearly has talents outside of football, he gets his multitude of nicknames for his performance on the field. So far, he’s hearing two more often than the others: Kevin Heaven, and Hammer Head.
His hard nose, downhill running style has punished would-be-tacklers all season and his broad shoulders have carried his team to a four-game winning streak after a shaky start to the season.
Like many athletes, Francis tries to emulate one of his favorite football players.
“Beast Mode,” said Francis. “I always watch football and I watched how Marshawn Lynch ran and I just wanted to be like him. Run as hard as you can and I think I’ve been running just like him.”
Through seven games, Francis has rushed for 1,417 yards and 20 touchdowns on 210 carries. According to the Daily Local News-area statistics, that is twice as many carries as the second-place running back (Kennett’s Garrett Cox has 110), and nearly twice as many yards as his closest chaser (Coatesville’s Aaron Young with 759 yards).
It’s safe say Francis has channeled his inner “Beast Mode.”
“It’s pretty much just my line,” said Francis. “They’re making amazing blocks and I’m just running through these holes. On outside zones, my receivers are doing amazing. It’s just my offense helping me out, I’m just running the ball.”
Two weeks ago, Avon Grove faced off against Downingtown West, and Francis ran wild. Along with help from the rest of the Avon Grove offense, Francis rush for 390 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-17 victory over the Whippets, rewriting the Avon Grove and Ches-Mont record books in the process.
“The whole game I didn’t know I had 50 carries and 390 yards, I was just running the ball,” said Francis. “I didn’t realize what was going on. After the game, coach told me I almost ran for 400 yards and I was like ‘that’s crazy,’ but it was definitely my line. They just dominated that game. They did amazing.”
“He’s a great runner,” said lineman Joel Mogaka. “He has a lot of power as you can see on his helmet. He respects his offensive line a lot and we appreciate that, but he does a lot for himself. Things like off the field in the weight room. Honestly, we make our blocks and then it’s just arm tackles from there and he breaks those arm tackles. We do well and we get him to where he needs to go and then he does the rest from there.
“He makes our job way easier,” Mogaka continued. “I always knew he could run like that, but I never knew he could put up stats like that. He didn’t get a lot of touches before because we had Nate (Jones) and he played fullback, but when he came out and started playing running back it was like ‘OK, I see you.’”
Obviously, Francis is doing well on the field, but not everyone knows he is doing just as well academically.
“I love math,” said Francis. “I’m probably going to be majoring in accounting in college and no one really knows that I’m good in math. They just think of me as a hitter, a football player, a jock. That’s it.”
“He’s a phenomenal student,” O’Neill said. “He’s ranked in the top 150 of the school. His SATs are solid.
“Everything he does he does the best,” O’Neill continued. “He just a driven guy and as humble as could be. He has no ego whatsoever. After the game I tell him the stats. He’s a really good student and he has developed into a really good captain. He’s the voice that makes us go. He’s a tremendous leader and I don’t think people realize that about him. When I got here four years ago and I envisioned a guy that could help me change the culture from an attitude and a work ethic standpoint, it was him.
“I’ve been coaching for 36 years and you get once in a while blessed with a guy like that,” said O’Neill. “He reminds me of a guy I coached at St. James, Bobby Schall, I coached him in the mid-90s and he was my all-time favorite player and to compare [Francis] to a guy like him, is big for me.”
After rebounding from an 0-3 start, the Red Devils are on a tear. Avon Grove has won four straight games including a perfect 3-0 Ches-Mont start.
The test gets much tougher Friday night with a trip to Coatesville, ranked fifth in the most recent Pa. Prep Live Top 20.
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