Ronjai Francis is stepping out from behind his two brothers' shadows as he creates his legacy as a power running back for the Bishop Hendricken Hawks.
Francis exploded onto the scene of Rhode Island high school football in the second half of the season. Francis' offensive production has doubled, and he is hitting his stride at the right time, before playoffs.
"At the beginning of the season, I was struggling, dancing around in the backfield looking for eight-yard gains when I should have been hitting the hole for a guaranteed three or four yards and a first down," said Francis.
Francis credits his new running style to his coach's commitment to him in the film room.
"Coach P told me to stop trying to run around everyone and run through them, make them have to take me one on one where I would win that battle most of the time," said Francis
Francis did just that, amassing over 400 yards rushing and eight touchdowns for the Hawks this season. Some touchdowns coming in crucial games. None more critical than his two most recent against the Central Knights. A must-win, high-powered Division 1 match-up where the Hawks found themselves trailing by six in the third quarter.
"Whenever we are trailing, or it's tight, we never think we will lose any game, we believe in each other, I have the best O-line in the state and we trust each other," said Francis
Francis would find pay dirt in the third to help the Hawks go up 7-6. Then, Francis did what he does best and ran north to south, hitting his hole on a 14-yard scamper up the middle to give Hendricken the 14-6 lead. Head Coach Keith Croft has seen Francis turn into this player.
"Ronjai has worked hard at his game and conditioning. Starting the year as an unknown he has developed into one of our most valuable offensive players" said Croft.
The fact Coach Croft uses the word "unknown" proves that the Hawks try to keep their team level-headed. Far from unknown are Francis's brothers Kwity Paye, former Hawk now with the Indianapolis Colts, and Komotay Koffie who played at New Mexico State and is currently dabbling with the Denver Broncos. Koffie had given Francis a lot of time off the field mentoring him.
"Komotay never let me rest, if he noticed me sitting on the couch he would take me to go outside and show me footwork and technique. I didn't appreciate it as much then, but I remember a lot of what he taught me now" said Francis
I was able to catch up with Koffie and he had this to say about his little brother;
"Everybody always wants to compare him to his older brothers but I’m proud of how he is handling the pressure and showing everybody that he can dominate this game just like how we did. I think he hasn’t even tapped into half of his potential yet which is scary because once he does I think he can play D1 ball in a top program somewhere." said Koffie.
Francis speaks highly of his brothers and how they were a constant source of knowledge. Koffie would always tell Francis grades came first and that no matter what he was his person. Mentoring a younger brother, who was essentially following in his older and successful brother's paths was a delicate subject. One that Koffie and Paye have always taken seriously.
"My brothers have been so great to me, giving me advice and guidance to be my person, work hard, be a great teammate and get good grades," said Francis
I asked Coach Croft about the spotlight Francis must have had on him coming to Bishop Hendricken and here is what he had to say:
"He seems to handle the pressure great. We as coaches and teammates hardly mention it. Ronjai is developing his own identity and style"
Francis is developing his style as a north, south running back that finds the second level and makes defenders pay when they meet him one on one. As a Junior, he is turning into one of the most punishing runners in the state. Francis has established his own identity as a player and person.
We look forward to watching him play and develop in the years to come.
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