Football journey: Justin Francis

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Every year, the Patriots have at least one rookie free agent who beats the odds to make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp.

Justin Francis added his name to the list this year.

The defensive end out of Rutgers showed explosiveness as a pass rusher in training camp to earn his spot, and after he was a healthy scratch the first five games, he dressed for the first time Oct. 14 in Seattle as a member of the punt coverage team.

The last two weeks, he’s also shown up on defense as a pass-rusher in sub packages (7 snaps vs. Jets, 19 snaps vs. Rams).

The 23-year-old Francis, who hails from Opa-Locks, Fla., is a late bloomer when it comes to football. Transferring to Miramar High School in 2006 was a life-altering decision for him, as he starred as a linebacker and tight end (link here).

Playing for the Miramar Patriots, and now the New England Patriots, Francis shared his “football journey” with ESPNBoston.com:

When he first started playing football: “On a consistent basis, probably the end of the my 11th grade year of high school. I had played JV football at American High School, but I left that school [to go to Miramar], and that’s when I started playing, my senior year really. Ever since then, I’ve had a dream to rush the passer.”

Attending Rutgers: “There were a lot of positives. I was getting away from Miami. The education, for one, was off the charts. Rutgers was an up-and-coming program with Coach [Greg] Schiano. He had been coaching in Miami for quite some time, so he had a lot of connections down there and he got in touch with me. I went to a couple of the camps and it went from there. At the time, I didn’t really know about all the recruiting and stuff, but from what I was seeing, the others schools didn’t really fit me.”

Favorite memories at Rutgers (60 tackles, 5.5 sacks): “Probably my entire senior year. Winning, and winning with my guys, the guys I came in with and grew up with.”

Going undrafted and signing as a rookie free agent with the Patriots: “Everybody wants to get drafted, but life doesn’t always go the way you want it to go. I took my blessing, which was getting signed here, and didn’t look back. I didn’t have a rear-view mirror.”

Beating the odds and making the final 53-man roster out of training camp: “I took advantage of the opportunity. This is a top-of-the-line organization. We work hard.”

Looking up to others: “I’ve learned a lot from a lot of older guys. I try to critique myself on the older guys, like Vince [Wilfork] and Kyle Love. And looking back [as a kid], guys like John Randle, Michael Strahan, Jevon Kearse – some of the most elite pass-rushers. I’ve just been trying to make a name for myself, trying to work as hard as I can to show the coaches and the world my blessings from God. I just want to get after it every play.”

Summing up his football journey: “It’s been a pretty good journey. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve fallen down a couple of times. From those times, I’ve learned how to conquer a lot of things. This journey is always going to be up and down. It’s been a life lesson.”