Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Francis Kallon moved to the U.S. in October. He grew up playing rugby and soccer, but decided to give football a try. At 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, he fit in perfectly and the rising senior has drawn the attention of several colleges.
Central Gwinnett football coach Todd Wofford was hoping to keep Francis Kallon a secret this spring.
The rising senior came to the U.S. from London last summer and had never played a down of American football in his life.
At 6-foot-5, 245 pounds, Kallon quickly showed promise during Central's spring practice last month.
"He picked up on it faster than anyone I've seen that's never done it before," Wofford said.
Wofford saw a diamond in the rough and so did college recruiters. Big-time SEC and ACC programs came to the Black Knights' spring practices to check out college prospects Trey Johnson and George Morris. They left wanting to know more about Kallon.
"It kind of blew up from spring practice," Wofford said. "A guy I know from ESPN came to see Tray and he saw Francis practicing. When ESPN gets hold of you, it's hard to keep a secret."
By the time Central had its spring game, several schools were interested in offering Kallon a college scholarship. Just days after getting their hands on the film from the spring game, Kallon had offers from nearly a dozen schools.
He became the buzz of Internet recruiting services and was featured on ESPN.com. Sorry, Coach Wofford, Francis Kallon is no longer a secret.
"I've never heard of this," Wofford said. "If he had been playing his whole life then I would say he's good. To do it and never played before is incredible to me."
To get Kallon on the football field took nearly six months of persuasion by Wofford. Kallon's mother, Roselin, and his father, Francis, were separated for 11 years. When they reconciled, Kallon's father had moved to Lawrenceville from London. Kallon and his mother came to the U.S. last June.
Wofford didn't recognize Kallon until one day in the cafeteria last fall.
"I stood up and he was like 'Oh, who are you?'" Kallon said.
Wofford asked him to try out for the football team, but Kallon was hesitant and his parents resisted the idea.
"I was intrigued, but my parents thought it was a barbaric sport," Kallon said.
Kallon played center on the basketball team and Wofford heard tales of his athleticism in P.E. class. In April, the second-year head coach gave it one more try to get Kallon on the field.
"I said just give me two weeks. If you like it, stick with it. If you don't, at least you gave it a try. He fell in love with it right away," Wofford said. "I thought maybe we could use him to clog a gap or as a tight end. I didn't know what would happen."
Wofford put Kallon at defensive end and he picked up on the position quickly. Kallon grew up playing soccer and rugby, but football was another world. He had to learn fundamentals, terminology and schemes all in two weeks.
"It was like every day I had to become a sponge. I had to soak up every single thing," Kallon said. "Coach would tell me something and I would have to remember it and apply it every time I went out there on the field. Every day I became a new sponge. I would soak up one day, dry off at home and come back and learn more."
By the time the first week of spring practice ended, Wofford knew he had something special in Kallon. He recalls the first practice when they ran a play to the opposite side of the field and Kallon was one of the first in on the tackle.
"I was trying to figure out how he got from where he was to there," Wofford said. "His motor is always going. That's what I'm most impressed with."
Or the time speedy running back Morris caught a screen pass, made a move and was gone down the sideline. There was Kallon, the only one, trying to chase him down.
"That's how he hustles and that jumped out to me," Wofford said. "It just gave a me a little ray of light of what he could do."
College recruiters noticed Kallon's potential as well. Before the Black Knights held their spring game, he had schools interested in offering him a scholarship. They routinely came to practice with video recorders in hand, just to get some film of Kallon to take back to their office. More than a dozen schools requested a copy of Central's spring game. A day later, Kallon had offers from Arkansas, N.C. State, Duke, Maryland, Vanderbilt, Boston College and Virginia.
"I was surprised. At one point it was too much for me," Kallon said. "My mom had to calm me down and said don't worry about it. We believe in God and he's in control."
Kallon knows very little about American football, so he's having to learn which programs fit him best. He has no idea which schools are football powers, are up and coming or are struggling. But that's his least concern when checking out schools.
"A big part of me is my academics," said Kallon, who maintains a 3.6 GPA. "I don't only research them for football, but also the academic standards. That's what is going to help me make my decision."
Kallon has never played a down of football in an actual game, so there's still that uncertainty and pressure that he may not live up to the hype. Sure, he has the size and physical tools to be successful, but will that translate on the field for 10 games in one of the toughest regions in the state?
"There's going to be a lot of pressure. My coach told me this is not a game, this is serious. These colleges are not talking to you for no reason. They see something in you and you have to show them why they gave you what they gave you, which is a scholarship," Kallon said. "There's a lot of pressure, but if there's not pressure, then it wouldn't be fun."