MOAB, Utah - Jacob Francis
jams a lot of life into a single school year. A single sports season. A single day.
He's a five-sport athlete at Grand County (Moab, Utah)
, a high school of 400 students in Eastern Utah, and a scholar and actor too.
The 5-foot-7, 145-pound junior dynamo is currently playing one of the brothers in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," directed by his mother, at the same time that he's running cross country and starring as the team's starting quarterback, kicker and defensive back.
In the winter, he's the wrestling team's heart and soul and during the spring he plays soccer at the same time he competes in track and field, a sport he claimed two individual state 2A titles and led the Red Devils to a team state championship.
"He pretty much runs the school," said Ron Dolphin, the school's athletic director and assistant football coach. "He is a ball of energy, he is nonstop, it's go, go, go. I think he talks in his sleep, too – if he does sleep.
has talent, but he is undersized. That energy pulls him through.
It makes those around him better, and that helps him be successful."
Like with the football team.
The Red Devils (6-3) open the 2A playoffs today against Millard after completing their best regular season since 2006. Francis leads the team in passing (812 yards) is second in rushing (665 yards) has kicked 14 extra points and two field goals and made 32 tackles not to mention intercepted two passes.
"He anticipates well, he sees three and four steps ahead," Dolphin said.
"That's why he runs the ball so well – he can see it all unfold."
But he couldn't possibly have seen what was going to happen in the spring of 2008.
His father Zeke Francis was diagnosed with a brain tumor and six weeks later he was gone. Jacob, the youngest of eight children, had just finished sixth grade. He adored his athletic father who guided him into sports.
"From diagnosis to death, it was just six weeks," said Maralee Francis, Jacob's mother and a teacher at Grand County. "It was a whirlwind."
From that point forward, Jacob vowed to live his life at the same speed, jamming every second into each day like it was his last, while honoring his late father in all endeavors. Especially sports. Chip off the block
Zeke was a high school football star himself in the early 1960s, taking Grand County to two championship games and one semifinal finish. He later served as an assistant coach and was part of the school's first, and so far only, football state championship in 2005.
"One thing that stands out," Maralee added, "is how concerned (Zeke) was about Jacob – who will make sure he goes hunting? Who will take him to football?"
Jacob had grown up at sporting events. Zeke had become a football assistant when his older sons began playing at Grand County, and that position led to Jacob earning the job as team water boy when we was in third grade.
Family and friends quickly assured Zeke they would get Jacob to the football games since he was still too young to ride the bus with the team. They have also made sure to attend or inquire about Jacob's activities regardless of how far away they are living.
"Family travels to wherever I am, they road trip across Utah to see games," Jacob said.
Said Maralee: "We have always been a close family, but his older siblings realized Jacob would be raised without a father and they have made extra efforts to be there for him."
The support was vital and appreciated, but there were days Jacob yearned for his father, like the day before football camp his freshman year.
"I was getting ready and I just broke into tears," Jacob said. "It hit that I was finally going to play high school football and my dad wasn't going to be there."Heart and soul
Although sports trigger memories of his father, they have also been what has helped Jacob persevere and flourish.
"Sports have provided a huge support network that carried him through," Dolphin said. "He has always been a positive kid, and his attitude has been reciprocated by others back to him."
Though he shined in all sports, his greatest success has been on the track. That isn't by coincidence.
"When Jacob was little, his dad helped run the track meets," Maralee said. "Jacob would keep asking, ‘can I run now?'"
Once the meet was over, Maralee would let him run around the track while she gathered hurdles and cleared the area.
"We were all done cleaning up and looked around and couldn't find Jacob," she said. "He was still running. He would run and run and run around that track. He has always been a runner."
Dolphin said that Jacob's love of running and his energy are what allow him to be successful in all of his sporting endeavors.
Last spring, Jacob played a major part in the Grand County boys track team winning the 2A state championship. He also took home individual titles in the 3,200 meter, 1,600 and medley relay races. He also took third in the 800.
He also plays soccer, a spring sport in Utah, and has scored six goals in his two seasons, although he is primarily a defender.
In the winter, Jacob is a wrestler with a region title under his belt along with two fourth-place finishes in state.
"That energy makes him successful as a wrestler, too," Dolphin said. "He is the heart and soul of the wrestling team."Fulfilling a dream
He's the heart of the football team as well, so it was easy to see why the Red Devils fell behind early in an Oct. 5 game with Enterprise.
Jacob was out with an injured shoulder, the first time ever he missed a game with an injury.
"I had never had to sit out for any
reason," Jacob said. "Knowing I couldn't be out there was hard."
Without his quick feet or endurance or play-making abilities, Jacob offered the only other weapon in his arsenal.
The coaching staff took advantage of Jacob's football knowledge and had him help direct defense from the sideline – as a coach - and the Red Devils came back to win 36-20.
It was yet another contribution to the school's athletic department, one that was nearest and dearest to his dad, the former coach.
"(Watching Jacob) is like watching a fulfillment of dreams his dad put into place," Maralee said.