Among the 90 players on the Dolphins roster this spring is a group of undrafted rookie free agents looking to get noticed by Head Coach Joe Philbin and his staff.
Francis already got himself a good dose of attention on draft weekend despite not getting his name called. In fact, he just might have been the most publicized undrafted rookie on that last weekend of April.
Just don’t call him a celebrity, though.
“I wouldn’t say a celebrity,” Francis says, laughing, “but somebody, oh, you’re that guy from that thing.”
That thing was a classic YouTube video showing a birthday party for Francis, 10 days before Francis actually would turn 23.
After being sung “Happy Birthday,” Francis reached into a brown bag and pulled out a Dolphins orange baseball cap to announce he had signed with Miami. That set off a roar in the room.
But Francis saved the best for last. He got down on his knees and proposed to his girlfriend, Tatiana Uruburo, who said yes.
“I planned on proposing to her there that night because I didn’t know when I would be leaving, I didn’t know where I’d be, I didn’t know how long it would be before I saw her,” said Francis, who indicated a wedding date has not been set. “All my friends knew we were going to do it. So they all started recording it and after the night was over, they all sent me the videos and said, hey, look at this. I realized if I put together all the videos into one continuous stream that it would probably look pretty cool. I put it up and it took off like wildfire.
“The Huffington Post did an article on it, the Washington Post did an article on it, the Baltimore Sun did an article on it. I got e-mails from Dolphins fans, from across the world. I got an e-mail from a Dolphins fan, she lives in Ukraine. She sent me an e-mail. She’s from the Ukraine, she’s a big Dolphins fan and she e-mailed me, I e-mailed her, we e-mailed back and forth a couple of times. Yeah, it was an unreal experience because I never expected it to be as big a deal as it actually was. I just put it up there because I thought my friends would think it was cool. But Deadspin got a hold of it and the world just spun it around.”
Two weeks later, Francis earned more publicity after he was asked to write a guest column for the University of Maryland’s school newspaper.
Francis’ essay was impressive enough to get mentioned by the Huffington Post. In writing about why he thought he was chosen by former the paper’s sports editor, Connor Letourneau, to pen the guest column, Francis revealed some interesting facts about himself:
“He knows I will express myself like no one because I am the consummate individual. I mean, honestly, how many NFL signees do you know who graduated college in three-and-a-half years and began working on their master’s degree while still under scholarship, who have always been a big supporter of the LBGT community, used to perform in musicals in high school and have released five mixtapes since age 14? (Three are god-awful; one is decent, and the last one, ‘Checkmate,’ is certainly worth your listen if I do say so myself.)”
Francis’ basic message in the column was for everyone to live life to the fullest and to be a positive influence on the people in their life.
“If so many great things can happen to a scumbag like me,” Francis wrote, “imagine how great your life can be if you are just a genuinely great person.”
Francis, who earned his degree in government and politics in December of 2011, has been working on a master’s in social policy.
During his time at Maryland, the big man was known for his big personality. But he also started 35 games, showed versatility by lining up at nose tackle, defensive tackle and defensive end, and earned All-ACC honorable mention in 2012 when he finished with 43 tackles, including nine for loss, and four sacks.
The 6-5, 309-pound Francis faces a tough challenge in trying to make the Dolphins’ 53-man roster because defensive tackle is among the team’s deepest positions. But he’s just thankful for the opportunity.
He’s also never looked back at the 2013 draft weekend with anything but great memories.
“No matter what, that was the greatest day of my life, drafted or not drafted,” he said. “I’m just blessed to have an opportunity. I played with guys that trained just as hard as I did, played just as many games as I did. Some games made even more plays than I did in college and they didn’t get drafted and they didn’t get a call to get signed after the draft. It would be a disservice if I was down on myself because I didn’t appreciate the fact that I was given an opportunity. Whether you’re drafted or not, it’s still an opportunity.
“Except for those first two, three, four rounds, everybody’s still got to make the team. I’ve got to take full advantage of my opportunity that I’m given. The Dolphins have blessed me with an opportunity that not a lot of people get and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”