IUP FOOTBALL: Franco embraces new role
Some football players might balk at switching positions, especially when they originally were a quarterback. Even more so when the position they are asked to move to is one where their brother was a star.
But Steve Franco is not one of those football players, not at all. After the initial shock wore off when coach Curt Cignetti proposed the idea over the winter that Franco move from quarterback to safety, the IUP sophomore embraced the move and is making the best of it.
And now he’s using spring ball as a chance to reacquaint himself with a position he played in high school — one that could put him on the field as a starter this fall.
“At first it was difficult to swallow,” said Franco, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound Tyrone native. “But honestly, after the first day, I just started to realize that I might only have three years of football left in my life, so I shouldn’t waste any more time when I could be getting better.”
Franco came to IUP last year as a transfer quarterback from Division I Akron. He spent much of the year battling with Logan Weaver for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind senior starter Mike Box, and he saw action in three games. He completed 7 of 9 attempts for 103 yards and two touchdowns.
But with freshman Eddie Stockett joining the fray this spring, there was obviously going to be an odd man out this spring, and Franco was asked to make the position change because his size, speed and athleticism would make a move to the defensive side of the ball easy.
So far, it seems the decision has been a good one.
“Stevie will get a lot of work on defense,” Cignetti said. “He’s done a great job in the offseason. He’ll continue to develop and be a great player for us.”
Franco said the switch has invigorated him, but he still has a long way to go, even if he has spent much of spring ball working with the first-team defense during practice.
“I played safety in high school, but I was mostly worried about switching because I didn’t know how good I’d be,” he said. “I didn’t know if I could play safety at this level. But it’s coming along. I feel great because it’s all coming back to me.”
There is a huge difference, though, between playing quarterback and playing safety.
“It’s so much different because when you’re a quarterback, no one is allowed to touch you in practice and you’re always protected,” Franco said. “And on defense, you’re expected to roll down and hit people a lot. That’s definitely taken some time to get used to. I’m not used to hitting people in practice. But I’m slowly picking it all up again and I’m having fun.”
Should Franco crack the starting lineup and make some serious contributions to the Crimson Hawks’ defense, he will inevitably draw comparisons to the play of his older brother, Johnny, who was a standout safety for IUP from 2010 to 2012 and is now a first-year member of the coaching staff.
Franco said he’s OK with that. It’s a given that fans will start comparing the two Francos, mainly because that’s what has happened the brothers’ entire lives. When Johnny was a star at Tyrone, everyone wondered how his little brother would do when he got to the varsity level. (He did all right, by the way, leading the Golden Eagles to the state championship game and earning the Associated Press Class AA Player of the Year award as a senior).
But those comparisons to his brother will be especially in-depth at IUP because Steve Franco will be roaming the same turf at safety that his brother did. So far, though, there isn’t any tension to speak of.
“We’ve been together in football for so long that it’s not weird at all,” Steve Franco said. “We’re good friends off the field.”
Johnny Franco has been working with the Crimson Hawks’ cornerbacks, so he hasn’t been coaching his brother. But off the field, the two brothers go over everything back in their apartment, which has helped the younger Franco develop from a quarterback to a safety.
“He’s not really in the position where he’s telling me a lot of stuff,” Steve Franco said, “but since he played safety, I can ask him a lot of questions and he will help me out. We talk about everything.”