Francisco Knows What It Takes To Make It In The NFL
Free safety Aaron Francisco knows it takes more than just talent to secure a spot on an NFL roster. Entering his third pro season with the Cardinals, he’s been a textbook study on the value of hard work, determination, and perseverance.
After finishing a productive collegiate career at Brigham Young with 330 tackles and seven interceptions, Francisco watched 32 teams pass him by in the 2005 NFL Draft.
But instead of becoming discouraged, he turned the negativity into pure motivation with a resolve to earn his keep when the Cardinals signed him as a free agent.
“Coming in as a free agent and not getting drafted, I knew I had to work that much harder to be where I wanted to be,” explained Francisco. “I knew nothing was going to be given to me and I just went out there and gave it everything I got.”
In his 2005 rookie season, Francisco spent the first five weeks on the practice squad, and then was signed to the 53-man roster for the final 11 games.
“When I first got there the vets told me the more I could do, the better,” he remembers. “If you can play special teams, the more valuable you become, and that gives you better chance of making the team.”
Taking pride in his special teams play, Francisco continued to improve and collected eight tackles on kick coverage units his first year. That commitment paid off last season when he led the Cards with 23 tackles on special teams and was named a Pro Bowl alternate. In one season he had morphed from a practice squad free agent into a Pro Bowl special teams-caliber player.
“That was surprising to me. I didn’t expect that at all but I got it,” stated Francisco of his notoriety throughout the league. “It was nice and I am looking forward to doing more this season.”
Throughout the 2006 season, Francisco wasn’t only a factor on special teams, but also on the defensive side of the ball. Playing in every game, the
His increased role on defense, in addition to his outstanding special teams play, were so good the Cardinals signed him to a four-year contract extension prior to last year’s season finale.
But Francisco acknowledges he couldn’t have achieved such success alone. He credits teammate Adrian Wilson, himself a Pro Bowl safety, with pushing him to the next level as the two worked out together last summer.
“He’s helped me a lot,” Francisco adds. “He’s one of the best safeties in the league, no question about it” Any advice I can get from him you have to take it to the bank because he knows what he’s talking about and he’s a great player.”
“It’s a credit to him for hanging in there and working hard,” offers Wilson. “He found his niche early and he came in and he did what he needed to do on special teams. It earned him some recognition for the Pro Bowl and that’s big for a guy of his caliber.”
Since arriving to the NFL in 2005, Francisco has improved tremendously on every aspect of his game. From athleticism to techniques, the 6’2, 212 pound safety has evolved into a complete player.
“He came in with mobility or he wouldn’t have been here to begin with,” said assistant defensive backs coach Rick Courtright who served as Francisco’s defensive quality control coach the previous two years. “He improved athletically, he improved his speed, he improved his quickness, and his ability to recognize formations.
“He’s a great communicator for us out there on the field and he does all those kind of things that we ask safeties to do,” added Courtright. “He’s taken all of those phases of the game and picked them up and applied them.”
Although his work ethic on and off the field have played a vital role in his development, it is his confidence that has given him an edge.
“I have a lot more confidence because the more plays you make, the more playing time you get on the field,” confirmed Francisco. The more confidence that your teammates have in you, it boosts your confidence that much more. I have become much more confident since I got here and hopefully I can become more confident in 2007.”