Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 7, 2012
By RYAN ARENA
On what’s touted by many as the nation’s best defensive team — and perhaps the best defensive team LSU has ever put on the field — East St. John alumnus Stefoin Francois stands tall as one of its veteran leaders.
And he might just be on the verge of yet another national championship ring.
This one would likely mean more to the fifth- year senior linebacker, who was on the 2007 LSU championship team during his redshirt freshman season.
“The first meant a lot, but this year I’ve been able to contribute more,” said Francois. “So that makes it special.”
A fifth-year senior linebacker, Francois started nine games this season.
A converted safety, which he played for coach Larry Dauterive at East St. John, Francois has a skill set that fits perfectly with LSU’s defensive philosophy, which looks to fit as much speed and play-making ability against the pass as possible onto the field.
“It gives me a little advantage,” said Francois of moving from safety. “It lets me have a grasp on what everyone is doing on defense.”
Francois left East St. John after a monstrous senior season in 2006 as he helped the Wildcats win its first 12 games of the season and reach the state quarterfinals. He tallied 81 tackles and five sacks that year, playing as both a deep safety and up in the box.
Don’t confuse the ex-defensive back as a finesse player, though, said Dauterive.
“He’s a street fighter, a warrior,” he said. “Wherever the ball was, Stefoin was like a heat-seeking missile upon it. He’ll run down a receiver from behind. He redirects runners at LSU. He makes his team better.”
That toughness was exemplified by his return from a serious knee injury, one suffered on an attempted onside kick recovery at the end of his sophomore season and one Dauterive said coach Les Miles told him was “one of the worst he’d ever seen.”
“(LSU trainer) Jack Mariucci told me he’d never seen anyone work harder to come back from an injury,” said Dauterive. “He went all out in the weight room, a place where you see a lot of guys messing around. But he was hell bent. A lot of young players have an injury like that, and they’ll give up. Not him.”
His perseverance also came through in the classroom.
Dauterive said Francois struggled with his grades initially after the injury.
“He got down on himself, but he regrouped. He was just an hour short of graduating after the semester; he’ll be able to in May,” said Dauterive. “He’s a great player and a fantastic citizen.”
Francois knows he’ll have to indeed be tough on Monday night, noting how physical the first meeting between LSU and Alabama was in LSU’s 9-6 overtime win.
“Coach Miles always talks about being the more physical team,” said Francois. “It was our most physical game of the year. Both are great teams. It’s up to our defense to make some big plays.”