Back to 100 percent and named starting QB? Francois: It’s a ‘blessing’

It hasn’t even been one calendar year since Deondre Francois went down with a season-ending — and potentially career-threatening — knee injury.

At the time, FSU’s medical personnel didn’t have a firm plan of what his rehabilitation timeline might look like. Because a torn patellar tendon is so rare for athletes of Francois’ age — it typically occurs to people later in life — there wasn’t a wealth of medical history to give him a blueprint to follow.

With no guarantees of when, or if, he would be back to full speed, Francois did the only thing he knew he could. He controlled the one thing he could control. He attacked his rehab the same way he would learning the playbook or perfecting his passing technique.

“The week after I got my surgery, I just put my mind to it that I was gonna play again,” Francois said. “And I was gonna come back stronger. And here I am today.”

Here he is, back in the starting lineup for the Florida State Seminoles. Preparing to open his third straight season as FSU’s starting quarterback.

“It’s a blessing,” Francois said before Thursday’s practice, making his first public comments since winning the starting job earlier this week. “Just thankful to be playing again.”

Francois has good reason to be grateful. Not only did he have to battle back from a frightening knee injury, but he also had to win over his teammates and coaches after making a couple of poor decisions off the field — one late last season and another early this year.

Since that time, head coach Willie Taggart has said, Francois has been a model citizen. He has met or exceeded all of his team and individual obligations, and he has worked overtime to learn Taggart’s offense.

Taggart and offensive coordinator Walt Bell, both of whom are in their first seasons at Florida State, knew about the Orlando product’s athletic gifts. But they were both impressed by how quickly he picked up the offense during preseason camp, how smoothly he ran it and how he avoided the major mistakes that can derail an offense.

“Throughout fall camp, Deondre kind of had the least amount of critical error,” Bell said. “He’s a guy that’s been there and done that in terms of the decision-making piece. I think he’ll make good decisions. And again, playing quarterback for us, is more like playing point guard. …

“And obviously, he can push the ball down the field. That’s one of the things Coach Tag likes to do — we are aggressive, we are going to try to throw it over your head. And that’s something he does well.”

Bell, who also spoke Thursday for the first time since the quarterback decision was announced, said Francois’ victory was decisive but not overwhelming. He added that sophomore James Blackman and redshirt freshman Bailey Hockman handled the news as well as could be expected.

“Those guys are all gonna be great players,” Bell said. “Really tough choice. And it took all the time allotted. But that’s the No. 1 rule of decision making — use all of the time that you have.”

Said Hockman: “Of course we were upset at first. But it’s about winning ball games. Whatever gives us the best chance to win is what I think is right.”

Four days from today — and one day after the anniversary of his devastating injury — Deondre Francois will be back at the helm of Florida State’s offense.

It will be a new-look scheme, and he’ll be taking calls from a new head coach. But Francois will be nothing if not grateful.

“It was a long road — a lot of ups and downs,” the redshirt junior said. “But like I said before, I’m thankful to be here.”

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