BELLVILLE – Paul Francisco came to Clear Fork High School as a freshman, planning to focus on a potential baseball career. He hadn’t played football since the sixth grade.
Four years later, the unassuming Francisco signed a scholarship offer to play college football at Walsh University, an NCAA Division II program in North Canton.
“I came here for baseball,” the 6-4, 260-pound offensive right tackle said Thursday morning during a scholarship signing ceremony in the high school library. “I actually joined football to lose weight and get into shape. I never thought I would get this kind of opportunity.
Francisco was the leader on a Colts’ offensive line that generated more than 4,000 yards of offense and 52 TDs during 2017 as Clear Fork posted an 11-1 record, winning the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference title and a home playoff game.
“I saw Paul around hallways his freshman year and said, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s a big boy. We need to get him out for football,’“ Clear Fork coach Dave Carroll said Thursday. “We begged him to come out as a freshman and sophomore, but he just wasn’t real sure about football.”
“Back then, Paul was real introverted, quiet and extremely shy. But he always respectful and very nice. He lifted with us during the winter and got to know everyone more and that shyness began to melt away,” Carroll said.
“He struggled as a junior, which was his first year of football since the sixth grade,” Carroll said, “but he started. He had a tough time with some of the terminology and techniques, but he was an extremely conscientious kid and very coachable.
“He listens to every word you say. Paul is a people pleaser and he wants to do things right. He came in for his senior year totally different from his junior year. He was telling other kids about blocking assignments and techniques. He had a fantastic (2017) season,” Carroll said.
Francisco shrugs shyly when asked about the reasons behind his success.
“Just dedication,” he said. “I am a hard worker. I didn’t miss one practice.”
Francisco is part of a huge 34-member freshman class that first-year head coach John Fankhauser will welcome at Walsh this season. All but six of the incoming players are from Ohio and there are just four offensive linemen in the group.
“Our staff filled our needs with a very talented group of student athletes on the field,” Fankhauser said. “We also believe that these young men have great character, as well. The grade point average of this group is 3.12.
“We feel these recruits will ultimately do well in the classroom. I welcome them into the Cavalier football family and look forward to getting them on campus,” Fankhauser said.
Francisco has met and spoken with Fankhauser, coming away impressed.
“He is a very nice coach … a great coach,” Francisco said. “He has great character. He will push me, also. (College football) will be much more challenging … a higher level of competition and much more intense. I have got to get my strength up.”
Carroll, the veteran coach who played college football at Muskingum University, knows Walsh is getting a special talent – and special young man.
“They know they can put weight on him with his height, long arms and his ability to move as well as he does,” Carroll said. “We are all excited for him. He is a great kid. You could probably walk down the hallway and pick out any random kid or teacher and they would all say the same things about Paul. He is just polite and respectful … a good person.
“Paul is the perfect example of a kid who has a really good shot at making it in college the next four or five years because he is used to grinding,” Carroll said. “When you live your life right like he does, and you work hard, good things happen to you.”
Before Francisco dons the maroon and gold for the Cavaliers this fall in the Aug. 30 season opener at Wayne State, the big man has one more big sports goal at Clear Fork this spring.
Francisco plans to finish what he started for the Colts — as a talented first baseman/pitcher on the baseball diamond.
What will he remember most about sports in the Valley?
“Friends,” he said. “I always got along with everyone. I have great friends down here and I enjoyed playing with all of them.”