INDIANAPOLIS -- Coye Francies joined the last batch of performers at the combine on Tuesday, the defensive backs. At 6-foot, 185 pounds, he was more wiry than most, a little more agile, a bit stronger. He tied for second among all cornerbacks with 24 bench press reps.
"I did OK," Francies said. "I could have done better. I enjoyed myself. The big thing: no injuries."
The on-field book on Francies: a cornerback and kick returner. Aggressive, tough, fluid hips, good ball skills. Solid awareness in coverage. Nice closing burst. Super open-field tackler.
NFL scouts say that he entered the combine a projected second- or third-round pick. After his 40-yard dash times of 4.56 and 4.62, they believe he could slide to the fourth or fifth round. His pro day workout at the San Jose State campus on March 20 is largely about his 40 time. If he scoots faster, he will once again ascend.
Francies has been forced to rise before.
Every player at the combine had a story to tell, a football tale mixed with woe and merriment, an account of family and for some, rebuilt reputations.
After two years of junior college football, he joined Oregon State. But he was dismissed from the team by OSU coach Mike Riley for gun charges in June 2007, even though those charges were later dropped. He transferred to San Jose State, sat out the 2007 season and played his senior year there.
Francies explained: "I was in a car with teammates returning from a bar and grill in Portland. We were pulled over on a traffic stop and there was a gun in the car."
Francies met with several NFL teams at the combine who demanded more explanation. This is what one executive from one of those teams told me: "We asked him why he had the gun and he told us that it was not his, that it belonged to his teammates in the car and he took ownership of it because he didn't want them to lose their scholarship. An incredible story that I am not sure anyone would buy. So you took the blame and lost your scholarship? Even with that, the kid did a nice job in the interview. And obviously, he paid the price for it all."
Riley called San Jose State coach Dick Tomey and gave Francies a strong endorsement despite the incident. Tomey met with Francies.
"He wrote up a contract," Francies said. "Coach Tomey had in there that I had to maintain a 2.7 grade point average. Miss no classes. Late to no practices. Late to no meetings. No altercations or any other incidents. Do that and I would have a scholarship the next semester. He wrote it all out. I signed it. When I transferred, I started out with nothing. My first two weeks on the campus, I lived in my car. I met a couple of players who let me move in with them. I had grants and financial aid to get through school. And I kept my end of the bargain. I kept my word. It all worked out. I was really blessed.
"I learned a lot of things: to value every moment, every opportunity. Be more appreciative of the Lord's blessings. Be really aware of your surroundings and the situations you put yourself in. Any situation can harm you and your loved ones. I realized how decisions you make not only harm you but also those that love you and those you love. My mom, that was the hardest thing. She was just hurt. She didn't say too much. That hurt me more than anything."
His mother, Beverly Richardson, and stepfather, Paris Richardson, his first coach, said they raised Coye to value education first. To respect others.
Reached by telephone on Tuesday at her home near Sacramento, Beverly Richardson said, "He was 19 when that happened, young, and made a mistake. We all make mistakes. As a mother, I made mistakes. Athletes are under the microscope. I told him to pray, move forward, put it behind him and learn from it, to understand the importance of making good choices. Sometimes you can correct mistakes. Sometimes you can't. He has had an opportunity to correct his. He has done that. He is doing that."
Donald Northcross created "The OK Program" in 1990 in Sacramento to help African-American children develop leadership and social skills. Northcross said he was stunned when Francies ran afoul. He was equally surprised to learn that teams at the combine asked Francies if he had ever been involved in gangs.
"Coye was in the program from the sixth to the 12th grades," Northcross said. "He volunteered to join; gang members don't volunteer to get into such programs. I am a retired sheriff's deputy. I have worked with thousands of kids. I know a bad young man, I know a good young man. He's a good one. I imagine that teams after they met him at the combine understood that."
Whatever happened in that car and whoever brought the gun, Francies paid a steep price. Among the 12 NFL teams that wanted to know more about this player at the combine were the Ravens, Raiders, Colts, Steelers, Seahawks and Browns. Some placed him at a board, popped in video of his 68-tackle, three-interception senior season and asked him to describe what he was doing on a particular play, the origins of the play and how could he have done his job better. Others asked more about his story. His football story.
By most accounts, he did OK.
"I'm very competitive, I'm striving to do better and I'm a very hard worker behind closed doors in the weight room," Francies said. "I had a negative situation occur, but I'm a good person who's 22 now, a lot wiser. I am someone who loves football and had it taken away before and knows what that means, someone who wants to get better every day as a football player and a man.
"Will I run a faster 40 at my pro day? Lord willing, yes. I think at the combine I showed them some of the best of both worlds I have at corner. I'm a larger corner who is strong but also quick like the little ones. I'm durable and I think I can add on another five pounds and play effectively with it. I think my future may hold a career in football. I am humble enough to realize that I am not sure if I will be drafted high, low or at all. The only thing I know about my future is that if I am blessed with a long life, I will be an excellent father to my daughter, Areyana, who is 2. Beyond that, I pray for an opportunity in the NFL. I'll make the best of it. I'll be OK."