There’s no missing Alama-Francis | NevadaAppeal.com

There’s no missing Alama-Francis

DARRELL MOODY
Appeal Sports Writer

It was hard to miss Ikaika Alama-Francis at last week’s WAC Media Day. He was the guy with the muscular body that easily filled any chair he sat in, and always seemed to have a big smile on his face.

There’s a reason he’s always smiling. Alama-Francis, despite not ever playing football until 2003, has blossomed into one of the conference’s top defensive players and has a legitimate shot to play in the NFL.

The now 6-foot-5, 280-pound Alama-Francis was a basketball and volleyball star at Kalaheo High School on Oahu. He never played football despite the fact that his father, Joseph, played at Oregon State and then briefly in the NFL.

“I was a basketball player at heart,” said Alama-Francis, who weighed 208 pounds in high school and lettered four straight years on the hardwoods. “Football coaches always asked me to come out for the team. I played volleyball instead.”

Alama-Francis’ team won the state title his junior year, and it was his senior when he caught the eye of Hawai’i football coach June Jones.

“I watched him play at the state tournament,” Jones said. “He was a tweener height-wise, but I thought he was good enough to play basketball. I grabbed him off the floor and offered him a scholarship. He declined.”

Alama-Francis opted to walk-on for basketball coach Riley Wallace. He averaged 0.3 points and 0.4 rebounds per game.

“He (Alama-Francis) walked into my office (after basketball season ended) and said he thought he’d like to give football a try,” Jones said. “I put him on scholarship.”

It might be the smartest thing Jones has done since he came to Hawai’i. Alama-Francis has improved dramatically, and should be an all-WAC performer this year. There have been bumps along the road, however.

“Those first two years, I was getting tossed around by 350-pound linemen,” said Alama-Francis, who only weighed around 210. “That wasn’t a lot of fun.”

Jones, who runs the scout-team defense during practice knew right away that he had a future star on his hands.

“I had these cards, and I would tell Ikaika who he was and what he was supposed to do,” Jones said. “I’d stand behind him. I walked into the meeting room (and told the coaches) and said this was the best pass rusher we’ve ever had here.

“His work ethic is unbelievable. He was 208 at the time (his first year) and now he’s 290 and he still runs. We had Wayne Hunter and a couple of other guys now in the NFL, and he went so hard. Offensive players don’t want scout team guys to go that hard because it makes them work harder. They would try to slow them up.”

Now, it’s Alama Francis that’s having the last laugh. He gained nearly 80 pounds in the last three years not to mention a lot of muscle. He’s the one that is victorious more often than not against the 300-pound linemen. He led the down linemen in tackles last year with 49 and quarterback hurries (7).

“A lot of eating and a lot of lifting,” said Alama-Francis when asked how he gained so much weight. “You have to be a vacuum cleaner. I tried to stay away from fried foods. They’re not very good for you.”

He’s hoping that the defense can improve over last year’s effort, which saw the unit give up 35.7 a contest. Of course, when you’re on the field for 90 snaps a game, that makes it difficult.

“I remember the New Mexico State game, I was on the field for 96 snaps,” Alama-Francis said. “The average is between 40 and 50. Our offense scores quickly, that’s the situation we have.”

But Alama-Francis likes the offense. In some ways, it does take pressure off the defense. Never will the Rainbow Warrior defense have to worry about pitching a shutout.

As for Alama Francis, his focus is on having a better season individually, being more consistent and getting back to a bowl game.

“There are no limits to how good Ikaika can be,” said Hawai’i defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold said. “He has the gifts of size, speed and athleticism, but more importantly he has the focus. He hungers to be better and works everyday to improve.”

The Alama-Francis File

Year in school: Senior

Position: Defensive end

Height: 6-5

Weight: 290

Of note: Led down linemen in tackles and quarterback hurries. Originally came to UH as a walk-on basketball player