Yes, his dad was Bart Starr's backup with the Green Bay Packers, but it's more important to know that Alama-Francis has played only three seasons of football since leaving Pop Warner ball as a pre-teen. NFL teams need to keep that in mind as they watch video of Alama-Francis playing like a seventh-rounder in one half and like a first-rounder in the next.
Alama-Francis is raw, but his potential is the reason he's visiting with the Steelers today as a potential defensive end in their 3-4 scheme.
"When I decided to play football I put everything I had into it," he told reporters at the combine in Indianapolis. "But I never would've thought I'd be in front of you guys talking right now."
But there he was, and here he is in Pittsburgh, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound defensive end with room to grow.
His history begins with his dad, Joe Francis, a member of the Oregon State Hall of Fame and considered by some as the greatest tailback in school history. He played quarterback as a senior and led the Beavers to the 1957 Rose Bowl.
Francis was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in the fifth round in 1958 and he spent two seasons on the bench behind Starr and one season under Vince Lombardi before going off to play for Montreal in the CFL. A few years later he returned to Hawaii and coached high school football until 2001, but he never forced his son to take up the game.
When Ikaika (Ee-KIKE-uh) heard his dad's friends -- such as Jerry Kramer -- talk about the old days with the Packers, he became intrigued and took up the game. He was a quarterback in Pop Warner ball, but soon quit the game to concentrate on basketball and volleyball.
Alama-Francis didn't play football in high school, and was recruited by the University of Hawaii to play volleyball. He instead walked on as a basketball player and played in a reserve role during the 2002-03 season. He worked out with the football players, and the coaching staff asked him to come out for the team. So in the spring of 2003, as a 210-pounder, he went out for the football team, which surprised his dad.
"When I watched him play basketball I didn't think he was overly physical, a skinny kid," Francis told the Honolulu Star Bulletin last July. "I figured football? He's got to be a little more physical than what he showed in basketball."
Alama-Francis redshirted in 2003 and played less than 50 snaps in 2004. But he got his weight up to 250 in 2005 and moved into the starting lineup upon the arrival of defensive coordinator Jerry Glanville, a former NFL head coach who changed the Hawaii scheme to a 3-4. Alama-Francis played end and impressed both his coordinator and June Jones, the Hawaii head coach who'd also coached in the NFL.
"Jerry and I both said last year we didn't have anyone as good as him in the NFL," Jones told the Star Bulletin before the 2006 season. "I think he's a first-day pick."
|Alama-Francis: "I'm loving every minute of football right now." (Photo: C.W. Pack Sports)|
Alama-Francis showed up at the combine at 280 pounds, but didn't work out because of a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the Hula Bowl.
"I was tackling the quarterback and my arm got overextended from one extreme to the other," he explained.
He was due to perform at Hawaii's pro day last Thursday. As for the NFL, he was asked if he sees himself as a 4-3 or 3-4 end?
"With the Hula Bowl I played a little bit of 4-3 and I was liking it out there," he said. "But in the 3-4 you also learn how to play run defense really good. You're always inside, and you also get to work a little outside, so I thought it was fantastic both ways. Glanville, he would bring like nine guys on one play and then sometimes he'd bring just three defensive linemen. That was tough on us but we have to learn those things. I thought it went really well."
Is he glad he chose football over basketball?
"I'm loving every minute of football right now," he said.
And how did Glanville affect him?
"Jerry taught me things that I never would have learned from any other coach," he said. "He taught me never to quit. He instilled that. I always wanted to work hard but he just pushed me to that extra limit. He was always pressing that you've got to give everything on every play in every practice. That's really helping me now."
Does Glanville still dress in all black?
"Yeah, all black," Alama-Francis said with a laugh. "People say you've got to wear that Hawaiian shirt with the flower print. He'll have a flower print but it will be black. He's still got the cowboy hat, still got the boots. Same old Jerry.
"The guy will always have some animated remarks. Just make sure you don't make a mistake around him because he'll hold it against you the rest of the year. I made sure I ran to every ball, did what he said, and kept my nose clean."
And now for the big question: Would Alama-Francis be able to live and play in the northeast?
"I love it out here," he said in frozen Indianapolis. "People think I'm crazy when I say I love cold weather because I'm from Hawaii and I'm used to 85 degrees. You've got to leave the island some time, and I love it out here – fantastic."
Front page image courtesy of C.W. Pack Sports.