Cedric Francis

Westlake senior defensive lineman Cedric Francis (#84) will play an expanded role this season with more playing time at tight end.

In 2015, Cedric Francis started playing for the Westlake Rams freshman football team. But two games into the season he was called up to the varsity team after a starter went down with an injury.

That first game was an eye-opening experience for Francis.

“I was terrified,” Francis said. “Everyone was pretty much bigger than me and had a lot more experience.”

Now, with 28 starts over three seasons, Francis is the leader up front for the Rams.

“I have improved a lot,” Francis said. “I know what to expect on Friday night.

“It feels great. It has been a long time since freshman year.”

It wasn’t until his sophomore season that he started to feel comfortable in his role as the anchor of the defensive line at 6-foot-3, 265 pounds. In Week 9 of the 2016 season, Francis and the Rams were able to limit running back Travis Etienne — now a sophomore at Clemson — to 110 yards after the Jennings standout had rushed for 200-plus yards in three consecutive weeks.

“Cedric came in as a freshman and played in one or two freshmen games, dominated, then we had an injury early in the year up front,” Westlake head coach Phil Fontenot said. “He was the best option we had.

“We took our lumps with him. Ever since then he has got progressively better and better every year. He is one of the best D-linemen that have come through here in awhile.”

Francis enjoys his role as the first line of defense.

“You are the first person there and the running back and quarterback are right there,” Francis said “It is pretty fun. I am trying to play to the best of my ability.”

Francis’ ability to draw double and triple teams has created opportunities for teammates. Even with the extra attention Francis found plenty of his own stops last year, racking up 69 tackles, eight sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and was voted to the 4-3A all-district team and American Press All-Southwest Louisiana team.

“We play him a lot of times as a head-up nose guard right over the center,” Fontenot said. “Any time you play over the center, it occupies three people.“You have to account for him with the center and both guards. He creates a lot of double teams which allows our other players to make plays. If you don’t double or triple team him up front, he is so quick he can get through the gap and cause havoc in the backfield.”

Fontenot said Francis will take on an expanded role this year that will include more time at tight end and at defensive end, dropping into coverage at times against opposing tight ends.

Westlake won three of its final five games last year, including a 27-20 upset of then-undefeated No. 3 Jena in the first round. Francis said the game was a great confidence boost heading into this season as the Rams look for their first district championship since 2010.

“We came together (last year),” Francis said. “The confidence is a lot higher and we have improved a lot over the (offseason). We are pretty much the underdogs but we will give them some competition.”