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Sunday, April 29, 2007

DE Ikaika Alama-Francis' Professional Sports Dreams Ended up with the NFL

Falling in Love with Football
DE Ikaika Alama-Francis' Professional Sports Dreams Ended up with the NFL
By Chuck Klonke
April 28, 2007

Alama-Francis' father, Joe, was a backup quarterback during the Vince Lombardi era. (Photo: WireImage)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- When he was in high school, Ikaika Alama-Francis dreamed of a career in professional sports.

However, that vision had the Hawaiian native wearing the uniform of an NBA team.

Saturday, that dream became reality when the 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive lineman from the University of Hawaii was drafted in the second round of the NFL Draft by the Lions.

Obviously, there were a couple of detours along the way.

It might seem like Alama-Francis was destined to be a football player. His father, Joe Francis, was a backup quarterback for the Green Bay Packers during the early Vince Lombardi-era.

That wasn't the case. Ikaika never played a down of football at Kalaheo High School in Hawaii. Instead, he was a star basketball and volleyball player.

"My dad told me that I'd have to make my own decisions in life and at the time I was playing basketball and loving it," Alama-Francis said. "He was a big football player but he told me to do what I liked to do.

"At the time I dreamed about being in the NBA. Then I came over to football, and it's just unbelievable the way things turned out. It's crazy."

A lot of folks probably thought Hawaii football coach June Jones was crazy when he offered Alama-Francis a scholarship coming out of high school.

"I thought he was crazy," Alama-Francis said with a laugh. "I had no prior football experience. There was no tape. I was 190 pounds and 6-6. And he threw me with the defensive linemen. I was going up against guys who were 250 pounds plus."

Jones had one word of instruction for Alama-Francis, keeping in mind his basketball background.

"He said, 'the quarterback is the hoop, so get to the basket as fast as you can,'" Alama-Francis recalled.

The words obviously sunk in. The last two years he registered 10 quarterback sacks and 18 1/2 tackles behind the line. He also developed a love for football.

"As years went along, I told myself that I was going to give everything I had to football," Alama-Francis said. "I fell in love with the game, but I never imagined this would happen. I'm so grateful and I'm going to dedicate myself to getting better every day and be as good a football player as I can."

A lot of Alama-Francis's development can be traced to the Rainbow Warriors' hiring of former NFL head coach Jerry Glanville as their defensive coordinator. Detroit native Glanville, like Jones, is a former assistant coach for the Lions.

"He and June Jones complement each other so well," Alama-Francis said. "June Jones is a laid-back strategic person and Jerry Glanville will get in your jock strap. He has that fire that will make you go, and if you don't go, you won't play.v

"I was energized to have him as our defensive coordinator because he was a former NFL head coach. I'm glad he was on our side."

Alama-Francis had heard that he might be drafted in the early rounds, but the wait got to be too much for him.

"I watched a little of (the draft) in the beginning but I just couldn't watch it," Alama-Francis said. "When the Lions called me I was hitting a bucket of golf balls. I was just trying to get the nerves out.

"When I got that phone call that said 'welcome to the Motor City,' every emotion raced through my body. It was an incredible feeling, something I've never felt before in my life."

The Lions coaches liked Alama-Francis's versatility.

"This guy is an athletic guy," said head coach Rod Marinelli. "He's played basketball, volleyball -- all those different types of things. His movement laterally is exceptional. This guy can play inside and I think he can play outside, so he gives you position flexibility. He's got real good hand-eye coordination and the balance is extraordinary."

When Alama-Francis's father was playing for the Packers, Green Bay and Detroit were dominating the NFL's Western Division. However, Joe Francis didn't spin a lot of yarns about those days to his young son.

"He's such a humble, grounded person that I didn't even know he played professional football until I got to high school," Alama-Francis said. "He's kept me grounded my whole life. He said you should never expect anything from anybody -- you have to earn it. I guess you'd call it that old-school mentality.

"When I asked him about (his career) he'd tell me about it. It was incredible to hear him tell about the guys he played on the team with like (Ray) Nitschke, Jerry Kramer, Bart Starr. Those are all legends."

Joe Francis played against some legends, too, like Lions greats Joe Schmidt, Alex Karras and Yale Lary just to name a few.

"I'm sure I'll hear about them now," Alama-Francis said.

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