BRIDGEWATER, Va. - The first week of the college year is a hectic time for all students. Moving into the dorms, buying books, registering for classes and finally going to those classes can sometimes seem overwhelming.
Those that are student-athletes have even more to focus on as the season-openers are just a week away.
For Eagles senior football player Joel Francis the first week also included answering numerous emails as well as preparing a speech for opening convocation. Those duties come along with being student body president, a position Francis assumed at the beginning of the school year.
“I spent a lot of time answering emails from fellow students dealing with questions they needed answered,” Francis said of the opening week of school. “It really wasn’t that much extra for me to handle.”
Francis has handled his career at Bridgewater with aplomb. A solid student, an all-conference caliber football player and now the leader of the student body, Francis has made sure to make the most of his college experience.
“Sometimes you have those kids who are principled without being prudish and that’s Joel,” Bridgewater College head coach Michael Clark said. “To be that way as a college senior is his strongest characteristic. Joel appeals to a lot of people in our locker room and he appeals to a lot of people on campus.”
Joel Francis is certainly more than just a football player, but football has played a major role in molding the defensive tackle into the person he has become.
Francis tackles his schoolwork and extra-curricular activities with the same intensity he displays when bringing down an opposing quarterback.
“For me, football is intertwined with everything I do,” Francis said. “I study my game play the same way I would study for a test. I’m a leader on the football field and now I have been entrusted to lead the student body. A lot of what I have learned, I have learned because of football.”
When Francis arrived at Bridgewater, becoming student body president wasn’t on the radar screen. In fact, in high school, student government really didn’t seem that interesting.
“In high school it was pretty much just books and sports,” Francis said. “When I looked at student government, I really didn’t see that much to do and didn’t see much of a chance to lead. I stayed on that same trend my freshman year, focusing on football and academics.”
Things changed when a fellow student encouraged Francis to become an orientation leader. That was the first step in becoming involved with campus leadership.
“I remembered what my orientation experience was like and I felt like becoming an orientation leader was a job I could do and do well. It would give me the opportunity to help and counsel students going through the orientation process,” Francis said.
As an orientation leader, Francis got to know Dr. William Miracle, Dean of Students at the College. At the end of Francis’s sophomore year, Miracle approached Francis to see if he would be interested in being one of the student representatives on the College’s Strategic Planning Board.
"Joel has always had a clarity of focus," Miracle said. "He is able to differentiate between what is important and what's not important. I really thought Joel would give us good, solid feedback as a member of the Strategic Planning Committee and that's just what he did. Sometimes students can get bogged down in the minutia, but Joel was able to focus on the bigger picture."
“That was an amazing experience,” said Francis of his opportunity to serve on the Strategic Planning Committee. “To be involved in the process of planning and shaping the College’s future was a great opportunity. I worked with the administration, the faculty and the Board of Trustees. Not every college student has those networking opportunities.”
As a junior, Francis was elected to the Student Senate and later in that year decided to make a run at the position of student body president. “I am a confident person and I thought I could do a good job of leading the student body.”
"I think when a teammate, or a classmate for that matter, sees that you live like you talk, that has a great deal of influence," Miracle said. "I think that's what you see in Joel. He's a positive role model. He walks the walk."
As it turned out, football helped Francis win the election for student body preoident.
“When I decided to run for student body president I rallied the troops,” said Francis. “My teammates really got behind me. Without football, I probably would not have won.”
With that busy opening week of college is in the past, Francis knows that the weeks to come will be filled with football, studies and student government activities. For the next 11 weeks, however, football may get a little extra attention from the BC senior.
“I don’t have any regrets about my college experience,” Francis said before pausing to backtrack. “I guess I do have one regret so far and that’s the fact that I haven’t played on a team that’s won an ODAC Championship. But we have a chance to fix that this year.
“We have a young team, but we have a good group of leaders on this team to show the way. I think this season is going to be similar to last year in that we are going to play a lot of close games. Last year, if the ball bounced one way we won, if it bounced the other way we got beat and if it bounced a little further the other way we could get beat pretty bad. We’ve played in a lot of close games and we have guys who know what it takes to win those games.”
When his final year at Bridgewater comes to an end, Francis will be able to move on, knowing he made the most of his college experience.
“In the recruiting process, I tell each kid that with what you are being asked to invest it has to be about more than just football,” Clark said. “For Joel, it has been about more than football, but I think he would agree that football has given him a high return.”
Francis remembers one piece of advice from his parents as he prepared for his first year at Bridgewater.
“They just told me to enjoy it and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”