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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 23, 2006

Son aims to make dad proud

By Ferd Lewis
Advertiser Columnist

When Ikaika Alama-Francis drove University of Southern California quarterback Matt Leinart to the turf in the 2005 season opener, it marked his football breakthrough in a lot of people's minds.

Suddenly, with one ball-separating sack, Alama-Francis was transformed from a former University of Hawai'i basketball player to somebody carving a determined football niche for the Warriors.

But an equally telling, yet more private, moment came recently when he said his father, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Joe Francis, "invited me to bring some shoulder pads home. He told me: 'I'll teach you how to hit.' "

For all the son's jokes about "not wanting to hit somebody that old and hurt him," it was a proud moment. For someone who grew up admiring the Packer jerseys and photos of his father with Vince Lombardi but was never pushed to follow in the same footsteps, it clearly meant a lot.

These days the signs of Alama-Francis' blossoming are everywhere as the Warriors work their way through the first week of spring practice in Manoa.

The tale of the once-upon-a-time 6-foot-6, 190 pound football wanna-be finding his place as a starting defensive end is growing by leaps and bounds just three years removed from UH basketball, entering his senior year. And not just because he is up to 279 pounds about 20 over last season's playing weight and looking the part.

"It is an amazing transformation, considering he never played high school football and how far he has come since he came here (to UH) as a basketball player," said defensive line coach Jeff Reinebold. "He's not only bigger and playing better, he's taken on a leadership role," Reinebold said. "He's helping out and coaching the younger players. He wants to be a dominant individual but he also wants to be part of a very good defense."

Mostly Alama-Francis leads by example, a poster player for strength coach Mel deLaura's off-season training regimen and a tireless toiler on the field.

Though he said his father "never pressured me to play football or do anything in sports; he respected the decisions I made growing up," Alama-Francis said. "I think he's very happy with what I'm doing. He senses the urgency (of the upcoming senior year) and wants to help me. He's always been willing to help me in any way he can and now I try to get into his brain a little bit and learn whatever he can teach me."

Said Reinebold: "His father has been very encouraging for him but also very firm about respecting the game and what it takes, and I think it has really rubbed off on his son."

Like father, like son? "He got to a place, the NFL, that very few people get to and I'm going to give it my best shot and see what happens," Alama-Francis vows.

Reach Ferd Lewis at flewis@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8044.