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Patriots rookie Justin Francis gets a chance to renew his friendship with Steve Belichick

05.12.12 at 12:52 pm ET
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Justin Francis meets the media at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. (WEEI.com photo)

FOXBORO — Justin Francis recalls his first meeting with the Belichick family: It was his sophomore year at Rutgers, and he was sitting next to Steve Belichick in a math class.

“Yo, you’re coach Belichick’s son,” Francis said to the son of the Patriots’ head coach. “I suck at math, so don’t judge me, all right?

The two soon struck up a friendship, one that deepened shortly after Steve Belichick walked on the Rutgers team as a long snapper. He and Francis became teammates, and now, the two have been able to extend their relationship: this spring, Francis was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent, while Steve was added to the New England coaching staff as an assistant.

“It’s been a good little journey,” Francis said Saturday before practice at Gillette Stadium. “Steve has been a great friend for me for quite some time.”

Francis said there are “a lot of similarities” between the father and son, and it’s been good having a familiar face on the coaching staff.

“It’s kind of weird,” looking at the younger Belichick as a coach instead of a teammate. “But like I said, he’s a good friend. I know he’s never going to direct me down the wrong path. I take that and I keep that. I’ll always respect him. I respect his job. I respect him as a friend as well.

“We haven’t really sat down and got into anything like that. He’ll give me a wink and keep my spirits up — ‘Hey, let’s work.’ And I’ll tell him and give him a nod like, ‘Let’s work.’ Just keeping my spirits up. I’m keeping his spirits up. We know we’re going to go for a tit-for-tat thing.”

The 6-foot-3, 270-pound Francis posted very good numbers over the course of his college career (106 tackles, 22 tackles for loss and 12 sacks), culminating with 60 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, one fumble recovery, one interception and five passes defensed as a senior.

He’s one of several Rutgers imports for the Patriots over the last few years. In addition to Steve Belichick, he’s also been able to lean on Rutgers’ products like defensive back Devin McCourty and defensive lineman Alex Silvestro.

“I sit down and talk with Alex every day,” said Francis. “I haven’t ran into Devin yet — I was actually talking with him on the phone last night, and he told me the same thing, just staying in my ear. I’m going to sit down and get with him, pick his brain a little bit. Picking Alex’s brain every day. Basically doing as much as I can to better myself and better this organization.”

Rookie minicamp is also a great opportunity for younger players to get more individual coaching — with fewer players on the field, there’s more of a chance for them to get some one-on-one time. Francis agrees that “it’s comforting” to be able to get some specialized time with position coaches.

“We can always go to our coach and pick his brain and ask him about something we were confused about in practice, or something we were confused about during a meeting,” he said.

“Some guys don’t like to ask questions sometimes, so what you do is just pull the coach to the side and say, ‘OK coach, can you go over such-and-such with me.’ ‘Hey coach, I have an issue on this.’ Coach has been right there for me — all the coaches, really. Even the special teams coaches. Even the offensive coaches help you out and are in your ears. It’s a great feeling.”

Read More: Alex Silvestro, Devin McCourty, Justin Francis, Steve Belichick
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