As he pondered his college decision, everything lined up perfectly for Connor Francz and Akron. The football, the coaches, the academics, and the campus all suited him perfectly.
So, Connor Francz has committed to the University of Akron as a preferred walk-on.
Francz joins a contingent of Wildcats playing for former Saint Ignatius star quarterback Tom Arth '99. Owen Murphy '19 played for the Zips this past fall, and Tony Georges '20 committed to Akron in August. As it so happens, Georges and Francz have played together for a while. The two first suited up together in first grade for St. Bernadette's.
"It's exciting. Akron gets a bad rep because it's close, but it's a big school with great facilities," said Francz. "Playing for Coach Arth will be great, but it's not even just him, a lot of the coaches are Cleveland guys. A lot of the people in the program were involved in the JCU program, too, and they're all-around good people."
It's no wonder than Coach Arth wants Francz. The 6'2, 220-pound linebacker provided many thrilling moments for Wildcats fans.
Francz first joined the varsity squad as a sophomore. He saw some action in the playoffs as the Wildcats rolled to the regional title game. Along the way, he notched 2 tackles.
As a junior, Francz saw significant time, even with a loaded depth chart. Francz tallied 18.5 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 breakup, 1 quarterback hit, 1 forced fumble, and 1 safety. Francz showcased some impressive talent during his time on the field.
His senior campaign turned out to be his best. A beast of an inside linebacker, Francz showcased his trademark ferocity. Never one to avoid contact, Francz played quite well near the line of scrimmage. He played particularly well in the rivalry game vs. St. Edward, with 3 notable tackles, a tackle for loss, and a pass breakup. And of course, Francz will never forget the crazy comeback vs. Archbishop Hoban, in which he played a significant role. Francz calls that game his favorite of all-time.
For the season, Francz finished fourth on the team in tackles with 32. The hard-hitting linebacker added on 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 bass breakup, and 1 forced fumble.
"He belongs in contact sports. It's part of what he does," said the Wildcats' head football coach, Chuck Kyle '69. "He was clearly a linebacker. Seek and destroy. He belonged in the close box, the 5 yard area near the line of scrimmage, which was where he made a lot of plays. He was big and strong enough to take on offensive tackles coming after him at an angle. He could battle through anything and get the leverage to make the tackle. Whenever Connor made a mistake, it was an aggressive one. You have to make that split-second decision without overthinking, and he made some incredible defensive plays."
Indeed, Coach Arth and the Zips are getting a good one.
However, Francz is not just a football guy. The big man also excelled in hockey and lacrosse for the Wildcats. He's a member of the now rare 3-sport athlete club.
The Westlake native played four years of hockey for the Wildcats. His time with the Wildcats culminated in a state championship as the backup netminder with the Ice Cats last season. Francz earned a ring as the backup goalie on the 4-peat squad, a memory he'll never forget. This past season, Francz skated out as a member of the Cleveland Wildcats' blue team.
"Connor Francz is an outstanding young man. He is a good student and a sharp kid," said Head Hockey Coach Pat O'Rourke '90. "He is also a beast in the weight room and he can really lay the lumber on the gridiron and on the ice. Interestingly, he didn't have to play hockey his senior year, because it was pretty clear he'd get some D1 football offers, but Connor chose to anyway because he just loves to play sports. That shows you what kind of a competitor he is. And he was also skating out, which he has done before a little bit, but honestly he's mostly been a goalie - so he was out of his element a bit and still took on the challenge. That speaks volumes to me about Connor's character."
In the spring, Francz transitioned to lacrosse, and starred on the pitch, too.
Francz played well for the Wildcats' junior varsity squad as a freshman and a sophomore. His efforts on defense caught plenty of attention, as he earned an invitation to play in the 2017 National Lacrosse Classic in Richmond, Virginia.
As a junior, Francz earned a spot on the varsity squad. The physical defender never missed a chance to be physical or to snag a groundball. He played well during the 2019 campaign, always impressing his coaches with his athleticism. Hopefully, he and the Lax Cats will have the chance to play this spring.
"His schedule was a constant. He's a quiet young man who just loved being active," said Coach Kyle. "Where he felt uncomfortable was if he was not doing something athletic. His energy level was outstanding. Though in college, one sport is enough, particularly when you're playing Division I football. Maybe you have a couple of weeks here and there off. He'll do well with that. He'll have no problem with his energy level."
Also helping the transition will be the comfort level with the coaching staff.
Tom Arth '99 is always welcoming to the Wildcats, and he'll be a great mentor for the young linebacker.
"He feels very comfortable with Tom and his staff. That comfort level helps the transition," said Kyle. "That's great, I hope he feels comfortable. College is a big step, whether you're involved in athletics or not. It's nice to have that comfort zone of having people around you who care."
Another positive will be the close proximity to home. Connor's mom, Sharon, and brother, Garrett '22, will have the chance to come see him play at InfoCision Stadium.
And beyond his family, Francz will have plenty of members from the Saint Ignatius community rooting for him.
"I think Akron really has a hidden gem on their hands, and the hockey program and I personally wish him nothing but the best," said Coach O'Rourke. "We will be watching him each week and cheering him on. Connor is a young man that I had a lot of nice talks with over the years and I think we both learned from each other, so I am extremely excited for him and will be pulling for him to succeed with everything I have."
At heart, Francz is simply a great person.
Ask his coaches, teachers, and friends. He's a smart young man with a bright future. He plans on studying engineering at Akron, a school with a great program in that subject.
He also plans to participate in service opportunities. At Saint Ignatius, Francz has been involved with the St. Benedict Labre Ministry to the Homeless.
"Coach Arth is a lot more focused on his guys in the offseason. Having opportunities for service was a big difference for me," Francz said.
Before he departs Wildcat High, Francz has some people to thank.
"I want to thank all of my coaches, my friends, family, and the teachers and administrators who helped me," Francz said. "I'll remember the friends I've made. I've learned not to take anything for granted. Even the simplest things can be taken in an instant."
Francz is sure to succeed at Akron, and beyond.
"I'm glad to see Connor continuing his career at the University of Akron. Coach Arth and his staff are getting a tough football player, a bright student, and a solid young man," said Wildcats' linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, Ryan Franzinger '02.