Francies Stays Strong Through Tough Loss



Chris Francies doesn't have the easiest job in the world to begin with, and it certainly hasn't gotten any easier this year.

A wide receiver on the Packers' practice squad, Francies can be overloaded with assignments on any given day - playing cornerback on the scout team defense during the jog-through portion of practice, running routes as a receiver on the scout team offense during team drills, and studying film and the playbook to be prepared for an elevation to the active roster should someone get hurt late in the week.

All this while not really knowing week-to-week, or even day-to-day, whether he'll continue to have a job. A need at another position, or the uncovering of a developmental prospect, could signal at the drop of a hat his exit from the team, and perhaps the NFL.

And this season, during which Francies was active for two games in Weeks 2-3 before returning to the practice squad, he has handled the workload and the pressure under an unexpected emotional strain that would wear on any 25-year-old living 1,500 miles from a close-knit family.

Back in mid-October, Francies' 60-year-old father George died suddenly of a heart attack. Francies was told his father was driving and sitting at a stoplight back home in Texas when he "just went peacefully."

But the ensuing emotions have been anything but peaceful. Francies was very close to his father, who was extremely proud of a son who's been fighting to live his NFL dream, which thus far is summed up in two pass receptions during a rookie 2006 season when he hopped between the practice squad and the active roster all year.

Francies left the team during the bye week to be with his family in the Houston area and attend the funeral, for which Head Coach Mike McCarthy, assistant special teams coach Shawn Slocum, and director of player development Tim Terry also flew south to lend their support.

"It caught all of us off-guard because he was in good shape, he always worked, he was always doing something," Francies said. "It was a shock to my whole family, and we just have to take it one day at a time.

"All I'm going to do right now is just remember the good times. Me and my dad were real close, and I just want to make him proud of me."

No doubt Francies continues to do that, and his teammates agree, having voted him recently as the Packers' 2007 recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, given annually to one member of every NFL team for displaying commitments to the principles of courage and sportsmanship while serving as inspirations in their locker rooms.

One of the quietest and most soft-spoken players on the team, Francies says the award is obviously bittersweet. He's honored his teammates would deem him worthy of the recognition, but the coping is an ongoing process.

"I know he was very close to his dad and this was a very, very difficult thing for him to have to accept and to handle," receivers coach Jimmy Robinson said. "I think he did a great job of being able to get back here and get focused back on what his responsibilities were here while dealing with that.

"It probably was good that he had this to come back to because I think he knows that this is what his dad would have wanted him to do, to get back to work and get back busy at improving and doing the things that he's doing well for us."

{sportsad300}Francies has proven the work ethic he displayed during his rookie training camp, in 2006, was no aberration. Since his father's passing, he dove back into his heavy workload and remains ready for another promotion to the active roster should he be needed.

He has kept to himself for the most part, though he says he has spoken with fellow receiver Donald Driver on some of the rougher days.

"A guy just wants to know where his friends are," Driver said. "People go through tough times. I've lost family members before, and I know what he's going through. He wanted that conversation, and when a guy needs that, you want to be there for him."

Driver and Robinson both noted that despite being signed to the active roster, released, and re-signed to the practice squad multiple times over the past two years, Francies has stuck around because he takes every assignment seriously and has steadily improved as a receiver since arriving in Green Bay as a non-drafted free agent out of Texas-El Paso.

"He prepares himself just like I prepare myself every day," Driver said. "He's making the best of all his opportunities, and you have you take your hat off to him for that. He doesn't know if he's going to be here from one day to the next. But the days he is here, he makes the best of it."

Whether that results in a more prominent role for Francies anytime soon is impossible to say. But Francies doesn't dwell on the uncertain nature of his status.

He knows his dad wouldn't want him to.

"I've been up and down, but I look to the bright side of it that I'm still here, and there's a lot of guys who wish they had my opportunity, who wish they were here in my situation," he said. "I just have to make the most of it, and then remember my dad's words: Just work hard. Hard work pays off."

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