Noles’ best player may never play again

Francois still gets scholarship offers as he waits for trial

adell@bradenton.comAugust 31, 2010 

BRADENTON — The phone calls and letters keep coming for Giovani Francois.

He has scholarship offers to play football from USF, Louisville, Rutgers and FIU, and recently received phone calls from coaches at Florida and Tennessee wanting to know when he will play again, according to his mother, Trudy Gibbs.

The defensive lineman is the top returning player on the Southeast High football team, but when the Noles open their regular season Friday against Palmetto, Francois will not play. In fact, he may never play football again.

The 17-year-old is at a crossroads in his life. He could be playing for some high profile college next season or find himself incarcerated.

Francois was arrested last January and charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl. Peter Lombardo, his lawyer, said he was told by the State Attorney’s office that Francois’ case last week was taken out of adult court and is headed for juvenile court.

He is not satisfied and feels all the charges should be dropped.

Assistant State’s Attorney Erica Arend said no one from her office could comment on the case until its resolved.

Lombardo said his client would not speak with the media, but Gibbs, a Southeast graduate and former volleyball player there, was adamant that her son was being treated unfairly.

“The girl’s mom is pushing this thing,” Gibbs said. “I don’t understand why the State Attorney’s Office is going through with this. It’s just going to be a waste of taxpayers’ money if it goes to trial.”

Lombardo said the original rape charge was downgraded to lewd and lascivious conduct, but it is serious enough that it would still keep him out of Southeast and prevent him from playing football this year. He is currently a student at Horizons Academy.

“The old charge was forcible rape and they changed it because they realized it was a consensual encounter between Giovani and the girl,” Lombardo said. “I was a prosecutor for 18 1/2 years and most of these types of cases don’t get filed. I think this one is because the victim’s family is pretty adamant that the case be prosecuted. It’s a tragedy that a 17-year-old has consensual sex with a girl almost 16 and could end up missing his senior season of football and is potentially looking at jail time. He is one of the top Division I prospects in the country and has never gotten into trouble before. Notre Dame has contacted him and last weekend Tennessee did.”

The 6-foot-1, 235 pound Francois is rated a three-star prospect by ESPN. He was a standout defensive lineman for Southeast last season, recording 80 tackles and nine sacks in earning All-State and All-Area honors.

The ESPN scouting report on Francois describes him as an “interesting kid.”

“He flashes the ablity to be a disruptive defender, but can also seem wild at times. He is a prospect who can offer some versatility on the line and also has some upside if he can smooth some of the rough edges,” the report said in part.

Francois is considered a serious prospect for nearly every major college football program in the country.

“He is a good kid, who has over a 3.0 GPA and never had any problems before,” Gibbs said. “He is frustrated, but is ready to go back to Southeast and fulfill his dream of finishing as a four-year starter. I feel a lot of turmoil because this is unfair.”

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