Red Hot!

He was ready to quit after not being drafted, but Kahuku’s Aaron Francisco persevered and will start Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl. Aaron Francisco has never been held captive in a prisoner of war camp

Steve Murray
Friday - January 30, 2009
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The pride of Kahuku, Aaron Francisco

Aaron Francisco has never been held captive in a prisoner of war camp, nor has he survived a perilous stay alone upon a snowy glacier. But the former Kahuku High Red Raider should give serious thought to joining Toastmasters and getting a jump on his post-playing career as an inspirational speaker.

Francisco’s rise up the Arizona Cardinals’ depth chart - and his entire football career, for that matter - has been a journey filled with lessons in pride, disappointment, hard work, failure, success, disrespect and redemption. The story is a gold mine.

The Laie-born safety, who is still just a local boy with an 808 area code on his cell phone, played Pop Warner but didn’t really take more than a passing interest in football until his sophomore year in high school. Trying out as a freshman didn’t really interest him - until he found out that all his friends were playing.And by then,it was too late.


Which was OK, because basketball was and remains his first love, and he was pretty darn good at it. Francisco played four years of varsity for the Red Raiders, manning every position except center. So while his basketball dreams never came true,he’s done pretty well with his second choice.

“Yeah, things would have been a lot different,” laughs the former run-and-gun slasher about his decision to play football.“I would-n’t be playing in the Super Bowl, that’s for sure.”

Though not part of his in-season workout routine, basketball still has its place. Francisco plays during the off-season, even though he no longer takes it to the rack, preferring to stay on the outside and keeping away from the rough play under the boards, where injuries occur.And since he,wife Nalani and now 7-month-old Kainoa return to Hawaii each off season, he hasn’t had much chance to test his mettle against his hard-court-loving teammates such as Anquan Boldin, who, according to Francisco,“all think they have crazy game,“even though, evidently, they do not.

Aaron Francisco grabs an interception against the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC Championship game Jan. 18

After having a stellar career at Kahuku, where he teamed up to win a state title (beating arch rival Saint Louis in the championship game) with future NFL players Ma’ake Kemoeatu, Chris Naeole and Steeler guard and Super Bowl opponent Chris Kemoeatu, the defensive back headed for other heated, local rival BYU. Not that UH didn’t try. Francisco says former coach June Jones showed plenty of early interest in him as a receiver but backed away toward the end thinking, perhaps, that the former UH football camp attendee was a lock.

But as much as Francisco would have loved to play in front of family and friends, he also wanted to stretch his boundaries. And since the Cougars were interested - and when aren’t they when it comes to North Shore talent? - and because he had two sisters enrolled at the school and a grandmother who lived five minutes away, the choice became easy.

“I’d been in Hawaii my whole life, and I felt like I wanted to get out and leave for a little bit and see how things are somewhere else.And, of course, as soon as I left I felt homesick and I wanted to come right back home.”

While high school and college were filled with successful challenges and upward mobility, once his collegiate eligibility ran out he discovered that life doesn’t always go according to plan. The next year would be one of satisfying highs and disappointing lows.

Mock drafts in 2005 had him going as a solid second-day pick. The publicity, words of encouragement from family and friends, and calls from agents got his hopes high because, until then, he wasn’t sure he even had a shot at the NFL.

But after an admittedly poor showing at the NFL combine, his phone fell silent.

“I kind of regret going. It’s real stressful on the players. I guess that’s what the NFL tries to do - make it real stressful on the players to see if they overcome that stress and see how they perform under pressure.”

His agent finally got a call from a team that never showed any hint of interest. In fact, it may have been his only offer, as the agent never mentioned a single other offer. Francisco was so disappointed over his draft snub that he made the Cardinals wait while he figured out what to do.

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