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  1. Sports

Fennelly: Stardom, meet FSU's Deondre Francois

ORLANDO — A star is born.

Right before our very eyes.

Jameis' eyes, too.

Monday night, before his first college football game, Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Deondre Francois welcomed and received an on-field pep talk from maybe the toughest act to follow in the history of redshirt freshmen quarterbacks.

It was Jameis Winston, in his college debut in 2013, who completed 25 of 27 passes for four touchdowns. And the rest was a perfect national championship season.

"That's why I came to Florida State, to be in that position," Francois said a few weeks ago.

He commanded the position Monday.

With Winston, now the starting quarterback with the Bucs, watching all game from the FSU sideline, Francois helped lead the fourth-ranked Seminoles from 28-6 down to a steamrolling of 33 consecutive points to help overpower Ole Miss, 45-34 at Camping World Stadium.

In his debut, in his hometown of Orlando (what pressure?) Francois turned homecoming king. He was amazing, completing 33 of 52 passes (52 passes!) for 419 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.

And he led the greatest comeback in school history.

"When the score was 28-6, I thought God wouldn't put me here on Labor Day, in my hometown, first start … I was too blessed to lose the game," Francois said.

Meet the Comeback Kid.

He was as spectacular as Jameis was in his debut.

More spectacular, really.

Winston gave Francois a few tips on the sideline before the game.

"He was just telling me to stay composed, stay calm, trust Coach (Jimbo) Fisher," Francois said. "And when things go bad, like they did, be the leader, because everyone around you might go down if you go down. So keep the smile on your face and stay composed."

Teammates have described Francois as a leader.

When it mattered Monday, he led. And he led.

"The confidence he has coming into the huddle, you have no choice but to execute," said Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, who had 196 yards of offense, but took distant second billing to Francois. "He took some hits today, but he got up ready to play. You've got to be ready to lay it on the line for a guy like that."

Forgotten was that deep first-half hole, all the penalties, defensive breakdowns and that wacky Cook fumble. All of it obliterated in a storm of scoring. And in the eye, dead calm, was the redshirt freshman at quarterback.

No picks. No panic.

Just before halftime, Francois threw a 16-yard touchdown to Travis Rudolph that changed the momentum. Francois was smashed as he released the ball. He was slow to get up.

"Every lick was hard," Francois said. "But that's football. I love it. Every time I got hit, it made me want to score even more."

The kid came back. Back to lead FSU scoring drive after scoring drive. Back to show what a dual threat he can be, breaking off a 31-yard run down close to the goal line. Then another big run. Then another TD pass.

Francois was handed this job when Sean Maguire went down with an injury during summer training. He was probably going to win the job anyway. Monday night, under bright lights, we saw why.

After halftime, he flipped the switch and looked like the dual threat FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher recruited to Tallahassee.

Nine consecutive scoring drives.


"There were a couple of times he got shook on the sideline," Fisher said. "The thing about it, he bounced back. And that's what he did in practice. I put the heat on him in practice sometimes. But he's a kid who love his team. His teammates believe in him. And he's a fighter. He's a competitor."

"I couldn't let them see me down," Francois said. "I know I needed to project the image that we are not going to lose this game."

That's how FSU grabbed hold of this night.

Even when the Rebels tried to grab it back, pulling to with 39-34 in the fourth quarter, Francois was there, throwing 27 yards to Rudolph on third and 15, huge moment, to help set up the fourth of a school-record sixth field goals from freshman Ricky Aguayo, Roberto's brother. Or maybe Roberto is Ricky's brother.

The night still belonged to Francois. Coaches and teammates saw the Winston in him.

"Kind of similar guys," Cook said. "Exactly alike to me. Those two guys are going to bring it to the field every day. I was fortunate enough to play with Jameis. "Now I'm playing with another great quarterback. He just want to win. I can see it in his eyes."

He throws. He runs.

Dual threat.

Make that quadruple threat.

He leads. He wins.

A star is born.