American Football: Stardom beckons for London teenager

A 17-year-old who has been playing the sport for a mere seven months is being courted by top US teams
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The Independent Online

Though he is only 17, Francis Kallon Jnr has a story that already reads like a Hollywood script. In only two years he has gone from life in inner-city London to the cusp of sporting superstardom on the US gridiron circuit. He has achieved the dream of millions of American boys. The irony is that, until recently, he didn't want to live in the US and he certainly didn't want to play American football.

Nevertheless, in many respects, he was a poster boy for the sport long before it knew he existed. The mild-mannered black teenager has a strong religious faith and eschews drink, drugs and especially bad language. Yet he transforms into a "beast", dominating play when he turns out for his high school team in the US state of Georgia. Already coaches keen to sign him up are tipping him as a future star of the NFL – the richest sports league in the world where players can earn salaries of up to £14m a season. This is nothing short of remarkable considering the young Briton tried the game for the first time in his life only in May.

He has come a long way, and not just in the geographical sense, from Wandsworth, south London, where Francis was brought up by his mother, Rose. His father, originally from Sierra Leone, left years ago, settling in the US.

As a pupil at Salesian College in Battersea, he was keen on sports. But his passions were basketball and football – of the English variety. Dedicated to his studies, he was praised as an ideal role model by community workers who nominated him for a youth award in 2009 for his efforts to campaign against gang crime.

When his parents decided to get back together in 2010, Francis was uprooted thousands of miles to a new school. The straight-A student, blessed with the long arms of a basketball player and a footballer's feet, was quickly spotted by the football coach at Central Gwinnett High School, Lawrenceville, but he wasn't interested in trying the sport. Francis finally relented in May, after months of lobbying from the coach who had spotted the natural speed and sheer physical presence of the British arrival.

Although he barely knows the rules of American football, at 6ft 5in tall and weighing in at 260 pounds, Francis has become one of the top-ranked defensive players in the US. Offers of scholarships have been made by some of America's most prestigious universities – Purdue, the University of Southern California and Stanford.

His rise to prominence was described last Friday by the veteran commentator Jamie Newberg, an analyst for ESPN, as "surreal" and "maybe the single greatest recruiting story I can remember in 20 years".

Todd Wofford, his high school coach, describes him as "a real intelligent kid, very coachable; he does exactly what you ask him to do, and he does it as good as he can".

The 17-year-old is on a steep learning curve – he needed someone to help to put on his pads to begin with, and, almost completely ignorant of the rules, fouled players when he tackled them out of bounds or late. But he has made rapid progress. His coach shows videos to the youngster in a crash course on the rules of the game, while Francis has pledged that his "total focus and commitment is on mastering the game of football". Remarkably, almost anything he is shown on screen he can replicate on the field.

Keen to stay near his family, the teenager intends taking up an offer of a football scholarship from Georgia Tech, where he plans to study physics.

His future seems assured. Only the threat of career-destroying injury, which shadows every player at the hard-hitting college football level, stands between Francis Kallon Jnr and what everyone predicts will be sporting greatness.

Hall of Fame: British stars in American sports

John Amaechi, 31 Raised in Stockport, he moved to the US to play high school basketball before rising up the ranks in the National Basketball Association (NBA). After retirement he became the first former NBA player to come out as gay.

Phil Stockman, 21 Born in Oldham, he grew up in Australia, and played for Australia's national team as a baseball pitcher before joining the Atlanta Braves.

Scott McCready, 34 Born in London, he moved to Florida in 1992 to play college football. He went on to be the first Brit to play in a Super Bowl winning side.

Steve 'Stumpy' Thomas, 48 Born in Stockport and played in the National Hockey League from 1987 to 2003.