Bates Bobcast Episode 137: Another Bobcat in the NFL
Sam Francis '17 played football and men's lacrosse at Bates, graduating in 2017. Now, he's a Football Data Analyst for the Cincinnati Bengals. We catch up with him and recap the week that was in Bates athletics, on the latest Bates Bobcast!
Interviews this episode:
- 1:24 -- Rocco Fantoni '19, Men's Lacrosse (Male Bobcat of the Week).
- 8:37 -- Margaret Smith '21, Women's Lacrosse (Female Bobcat of the Week).
- 13:18 -- Alex Simon '19, Baseball.
- 19:34 -- Hannah Fitts '20, Women's Rowing.
- 29:12 -- Sam Francis '17, Cincinnati Bengals Football Data Analyst.
Aaron: This is the Bates Bobcast. Our weekly podcast where we take a look at the week that was, in Bates athletics. My name is Aaron Morse and this week we chat with former Bates football and lacrosse player, Sam Francis, who is working in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals just two years out of college. Plus, the lacrosse teams both defeated Hamilton and women’s rowing started the spring season as well as you can imagine. All that and more, coming up, on the Bates Bobcast!
Aaron: The number 12 nationally ranked Bates men’s lacrosse team sports an overall record of 7-2 and a conference mark of 4-1 after the Bobcats defeated Hamilton 17-9 on Saturday. Junior captain Matt Chlastawa scored four goals and dished out four assists in the victory. On defense, junior Rob Strain made a career-high 22 saves in the cage. But our Male Bobcat of the Week is senior captain Rocco Fantoni. He recorded a team-high six ground balls and caused a turnover on defense. Fantoni also showed off his offensive skills, dishing out a spectacular assist to Chlastawa and scoring his first goal of the season.
Aaron: Rocco Fantoni with us here on the Bobcast and Rocco, let's talk about the game Saturday against Hamilton. The defense obviously did a really strong job, what was working out there for you guys, obviously, Rob was huge in goal and you and the rest of the defense shut them down for most of the game it seemed like?
Rocco: Like you said, Rob was amazing, in that 22 saves that's not something that most goalies can do. But obviously we know that Rob can do that. But it also comes with our coach, Coach Deane. He prepared us very well for this. He drew out all their offensive plays, what they're going to do, and just having Bull out there, Haskell, Holland, all those guys out there, everyone on the same page, everyone talking, it really makes playing defense that much easier against a team who's that good, like Hamilton because Hamilton is a great team. And just going out there, and knowing what they're going to do really prepared as well.
Aaron: You hear a lot about coach Deane and what he's done this year, his first year at Bates as an assistant working a lot with the defense, what's that impact been like?
Rocco: It's been a huge impact. You know, he's taking the time to establish relationships with us, meet like every day, and have special dinners for just defense with no other offensive players because you know, we don't really like the offensive players too much. But just like him trying to make the effort just to sit down, and talk with us one on one or as a group, see what's working, what's not working, and then just outside of lacrosse just be able to sit down at dinner, lunch, breakfast, just to talk with each other. It really plays a big role in how we play defense.
Aaron: Well, and you mentioned the offensive guys and you guys have to go up against them in practice every day. What's that been like?
Rocco: Obviously it's not fun because our offense is very good in scoring a lot of goals. But you know, that's what makes us better, playing against some of the best players in the country with Curtis, with Matt, with Mullally, all those guys. Like that's what really makes us better because they know exactly what to do, how to break down a defense, when to score, when to possess the ball, and they moved the ball so fast. So playing against them really helps us out.
Aaron: So you were able to score your first goal this season and dish out your first assist of the season on Saturday. Take us through both those plays.
Rocco: So with the assist because that happened first, I knew it was a short time and I saw like one kid shoot the ball, but I knew Rob was going to save it, so I just started breaking up right away. And me and Rob, have that connection already so he knows I'm already up the field. So he threw me the ball and I knew there was like five seconds left. And I saw like a little window and I saw Matt like open for like half a second, but I knew if I get that ball perfectly the Matt he's going to make an unbelievable play. And that's exactly what he did. He caught the ball and somehow did exactly what Matt does, he scores a ridiculous shot that no one knows how it goes in but yeah, it did.
Rocco: The goal I was like okay, I already took ... I had took the first shot of the game, missed, and I was pretty upset about that. I should have definitely scored the first goal. So, I had to at least try again, and Cooney brought it down, Drew took up like two players on Hamilton and I was able to get some space to set my feet up and shoot, and just closed my eyes and hope it went in. And I'm happy it did.
Aaron: For those who maybe don't necessarily know the details about lacrosse and how it works. You know, for defensive players, when do those offensive opportunities happen because they're sort of rare, but they do happen?
Rocco: It happens when either your goalie makes a save, and you break up the field that's where our transition comes in. Anyone with a stick can really play offense because you rather have six players with a long pole, or a defender rather than a five on five you want that advantage so anyone ... Because we all know we can catch and throw so either getting up the field off a clear or making a turnover like what Haskell and Arthur Churchwell do like they ran out there, they caused a lot of turnovers, and they were able to push transition and that's like where a defender usually is able to play some offense, which is nice.
Aaron: It's tough to shoot that long stick, right?
Rocco: Well, yeah, for me, it hasn't been that great. I've only scored three goals on like 30 shots, so I can't say too much about that, but I know so. It is a little bit different, but I know that most goalies say it's harder to save a long pole shot because they have no idea where it's going. Especially for me, I have no idea where it's going, so maybe it works out a little bit in my advantage those three times.
Aaron: Excellent. Well, before we went on the air here for the interview, you mentioned you have a presentation today, you're an econ major, you're done with the econ major though, so what classes are you taking right now that kind of, you know, widen your knowledge I suppose, right?
Rocco: Yeah, so I'm taking to religion classes right now, I'm taking an anthropology class, and a French film class so my first presentation was in my French film class about some film about a guy who like was a con artist and lied to his family about him actually having a job. So we have to break down that. So it's really interesting seeing like Bates through other classes rather than just my econ majors, so I get to experience you know, like what ... Because I've never thought I would ever take a French film class in my life but taking that class is like, okay, it's very interesting because like, taking like macro metrics, you know, that's not fun. That is never fun, but watching movies and like being able to like break it down creatively and using your imagination, try to make connection just really awesome.
Aaron: I know I've spoken to some of the seniors and other econ majors who are going right to New York and working in finance. What are your thoughts on post college options you possibly could have?
Rocco: Yeah, so I'm definitely looking in the Boston area, especially New York, and I'm obviously keeping my eyes and ears open for anything, a job is a job, so I'll definitely take one when it gets to me but all of us you know we're all trying to get ... Like all these seniors are trying to get their jobs right away like right now it's getting down to the wire, but I know a few of us have a lot of interviews left, so it's very stressful, but it's also very exciting.
Aaron: For sure. Well this week you're at Bowdoin, right? Midweek game, if I'm not mistaken, this is an intense rivalry. I remember last year's game was really close, the previous years game was really close. What does Bowdoin bring to the table? What do you guys have to do to beat them?
Rocco: Well, Bowdoin is just a very well coached team, they have a great offense, great face-off guy, great defense. And especially when it's a Bates-Bowdoin game, it's just going to be a bloodbath. Everyone is going to bring 110 percent energy, it's going to be whoever works harder, whoever gets that one extra ground ball, whoever makes that one extra play like what our coach says do a lot of small things not a few big things. So whoever does a lot of the small things in that game, whoever works the hardest, will come out the victor.
Aaron: All right, Rocco Fantoni, Male Bobcat of the Week. Thanks so much.
Rocco: Thank you for having me.
Aaron: The number 21 nationally ranked Bates women’s lacrosse team sports an overall record of 7-3 and a conference mark of 3-2 after the Bobcats defeated Hamilton on the road by a final score of 10-8 on Saturday. Sophomore Margaret Smith led the way on offense, scoring a game-high four goals and dishing out two assists. Smith is tops on the team in goals scored and assists so far this season. Her 38 points lead the entire NESCAC through 10 games. And Margaret Smith is our Female Bobcat of the Week!
Aaron: Female Bobcat of the Week Margaret Smith with us here on the Bobcast, and Margaret little about your background, you're a sophomore now, when did you start playing lacrosse growing up, and what eventually led you to decide you want to play in college and at Bates?
Margaret: I've been playing lacrosse since I was pretty little doing clinics and stuff. Maybe starting around second grade and doing travel all through the years. I came to Bates, I was drawn to it because my brother went here and he just graduateD last year and also was playing lacrosse, and I knew that I wanted to play Division III. And Bates just seemed like a great option. So I contacted Brett and it all worked out.
Aaron: Did you talk much to your brother about his experience at Bates?
Margaret: Yes, I talked to him all the time. And we had one year here together, which was really fun. And he has nothing to say but good things.
Aaron: And then so Brett Allen, obviously, the head coach here, what have you learned from him to help you develop your game over these past two seasons?
Margaret: Brett has taught me so much over the past two years. He's so nice along with being really constructive and just helping us all when we need it, and bringing good team spirit along with being serious.
Aaron: Obviously, you got some playing time last season but this year really you know you're emerging as one of the top goal scorers on the team and whatnot. What's that been like to have such a big role this season?
Margaret: I think a lot of people in my grade didn't have as much confidence last year but really gained confidence throughout the preseason in the fall and winter, and we've all kind of stepped up a lot more than we did last year into new roles, and it's just really fun to be playing with the upperclassmen because they're such good role models and leaders on the field.
Aaron: At the start of the year, you had that big win at Middlebury then a couple of setbacks there with Babson and Wesleyan, and how was the team able to bounce back from that, because you knew you had the talent to beat anyone after that Middlebury win?
Margaret: Yeah, I think we were just trying to figure out what went wrong in the couple losses at the beginning and fix them. And I think that working on those points where we struggled has really come together, and we've corrected them all so we've started winning again.
Aaron: From an academic perspective, what are you studying here at Bates?
Margaret: I study economics.
Aaron: What prompted you to decide that you want to do that, I guess?
Margaret: Well, I just took the intro classes last year, and they interest me, so I kept going with it and it's been a good option.
Aaron: Terrific, and then working there on the attack with people like Katie Allard and Sydney Howard as well, some seniors, what have you learned from them maybe?
Margaret: Yeah, the seniors have been such good leaders and they have so much experience out there from the past few years. They're really good role models and they're always giving us good advice and keeping the confidence and the spirit up at practice and in the games. And they're always keeping everyone focused.
Aaron: This past Saturday at Hamilton that's a long road trip, right? So, what was that trip like and what allowed the team to come away with a win?
Margaret: Yeah, it was a long road trip. There's a lot of bonding that goes on, on the bus and we made it through it wasn't so bad. And it made it a lot more fun on the way back to have a win.
Aaron: Fairly tight game, it seemed like throughout, kind of a defensive struggle, was that fair to say?
Margaret: I thought the defense was doing a good job on both teams. And there was a lot of sloppiness and transition for both teams. And we were just both working really hard to get the ball back and both teams were having good caused turnovers, and our shots just started falling more in the second half.
Aaron: Right because at the beginning, I think neither team score for like 16 minutes or something, what was that like?
Margaret: Yeah, the first 15 minutes was just back and forth. I think there were four pipes hit, two by each team in the first half. And then things started picking up near the end of the first half.
Aaron: So, this week hosting Bowdoin midweek game, right? What's going to be key to facing the Polar Bears here this week?
Margaret: I think we just need to be really focused in practice today and tomorrow and come out ready to play for a night time game, which might be a little colder or just a different environment than we've had our past NESCAC games on Saturday afternoons.
Aaron: What's it like playing on Garcelon, that must be nice?
Margaret: Yeah, I love playing on Garcelon. It's nice to not have to get on the bus and to just be focused on home field.
Aaron: All right, Margaret Smith, Female Bobcat of the Week. Thanks so much.
Margaret: Thank you.
Aaron: Junior Julia Panepinto hit two home runs, including a grand slam, in a doubleheader split for the Bates softball team Thursday at the University of New England. Bates dropped three games to perennial power Tufts over the weekend in NESCAC action, but the Bobcats get a chance to bounce back right away with a pair of non-conference contests Wednesday at Saint Joseph’s and three more NESCAC games this weekend against Colby. Bates is scheduled to host the Mules in a doubleheader Saturday starting at noon.
Aaron: In baseball, the Bobcats dropped the first two games of their three-game set at Tufts before bouncing back to win the series finale 6-5. The Bobcats jumped out to a 6-1 lead and held on from there to defeat the Jumbos. Senior captain Alex Simon got the final five outs of the game to earn his first save of the season. And he joined the Bobcast to chat Bobcat baseball.
Aaron: Last year you were kind of set-up man to Jake Shapiro, this year looks like you might have that closer role. So what's that like, as a senior to get that role?
Alex: Yeah, I mean, it's cool. It's definitely the spot I want to be in, the combination of Miles and I in the back end, we're still kind of figuring out who goes the eighth, who goes the ninth type thing. But I think we got a lot of options just throughout our whole bullpen that any guy really that gets put in that spot, I think will step up.
Aaron: So, that Tufts game was a nailbiter. What was your mentality going in? What did you see out there on the mound?
Alex: Well, I came in, in the bottom of the eighth with guys on first and second and I knew we needed a ground ball to get out of the inning. I think it was a one-one change-up that came in on his hands. He just taps it over the shortstop, Carter came in it was a slow hit ball, and him and Chi made a good turn at second and got it over to first. And then going back out to the ninth you know I was facing the heart of their order 2-3-4 and I was just looking to get soft contact trying to keep the ball in the infield.
Aaron: So you have an interesting background kind of you came in to Bates as a position player and then move to pitcher as a sophomore. How did that transition come about?
Alex: So, actually 10 days before I moved into college freshman year, I had Tommy John surgery in my elbow. So I went through ASOP with the cast and my arm and all that stuff and all fall was kind of rehabbing. I knew by February 15 I wasn't going to be in a position to throw off a mound, so I kind of had this mentality of coming to rehab for six months to be able to play the middle infield and contribute as a freshman that way. But you know, I had guys like Brendan Fox, Asher MacDonald ahead of me. So it was a little tough but you know, I got some of the bats that year. And then going into the summer once coach Leonard left I kind of realized if I wanted to have a chance to contribute to the team I needed to pitch. I rehabbed my arm back, I came back in the fall and I felt good. And then my sophomore spring was really the time where I think I kind of turned it around and figure it out.
Aaron: So you did come into Bates think you'd be a pitcher at some point I imagine, right? But the surgery obviously, prevented that initially.
Alex: Yeah, I came in thinking you know, I'd be a two way player. I always kind of knew I liked pitching more, I had more of a pitching mind than a hitting mind. I just wasn't as talented as a hitter and that's kind of what it comes down to in college baseball, but I could get guys out on the mound so that's the way it worked out.
Aaron: So what's your repertoire out there on the mound, what pitchers are you throwing out there?
Alex: Yeah, I'm not the hardest thrower so I rely a lot on my movement so you know, I'm like a two seem sinker slider guy with a good change up. My change up is probably my out pitch. But again, you know, I really try and just look for soft contact and let my ball move, as opposed to just try and blow by everyone.
Aaron: Seems like last season you really got into a groove with the team out of that bullpen what was it like setting up a guy like Jake Shapiro? You, Miles and Jake was such a great combo last year, wasn't it?
Alex: Yeah, it was awesome, just having Jake ahead of me being the senior captain I looked up to him a lot and the way he prepped for games. I mean, he was always the guy that we could look up to just in terms of how we would get to his role. I mean, he definitely earned that and ... You know so it was cool just been in the bullpen like the seventh inning warming up with Jake right next to me and you know he's talking me up and helping me feel confident to get out there. And then I get out there and there's like no one else I'd rather give the ball to than this guy. So it was awesome setting up for him and you know we all had confidence in each other we'd all go down there like the six innings, and we'd say like you know, time to get to work. And we knew that we were going to close out this game in that order so that was awesome.
Aaron: And now you're the senior captain, so what's that experience been like so far?
Alex: It's cool, you know now I'm thinking of Jake last year, and thinking about how he handled things, and how he handled the younger pitchers and ... You know, we have a guy, freshman Jared Pantalony who's gotten some good innings for us and we just want to make sure that our bullpen guys feel confident when they go out there. And that it's not ... You know, last year with Jake it was kind of we threw him out there and games over but now you know, we got to work together a little more because we don't have that big lefty that throws 88 so. I think we got a good unit in the pen and a lot of confidence in our guys in the back end, and I think we can put a bunch of guys out there and have success.
Aaron: You got a game today we're talking on Tuesday afternoon at Husson, and obviously every non-conference game is important to prepare for a big weekend series against Trinity, right?
Alex:Definitely yeah, you know, today is kind of like a tune up game. We'll throw a bunch of pitchers get some position guys some reps. But it's definitely important to get out on a field, it's tough being stuck in the gray cage or even out on JB turf, can get very monotonous and we need to see live pitching and our pitchers need to throw so this is big for us.
Aaron: And I know Trinity coming up, I mean they're probably looking for some revenge after last season, right?
Alex: Definitely I mean that series last year that everyone on our team will say it was just the most emotional weekend we've ever had on a baseball field. That was just pure emotion that one that series. So, no, they're definitely good. They're going to come in. They just swept Bowdoin this past weekend, so you know, we got to be ready to go. But you know, I think after the series against Tufts, I think our team realized we can definitely compete with anyone in the NESCAC, and you can go 0-3 really quickly or you can go 3-0 really quickly. So it's little things that it comes down to always in the game and it sucks to look back on some things and like the fourth or fifth inning, you're like, you know, if that run score, or if this ball was an inch to the right you know. This is a totally different game, totally different series, totally different postseason at that point. So yeah, but we're ready to go.
Aaron: All right, Alex Simon, thanks so much.
Alex: Thanks a lot.
Aaron: The rowing teams opened their spring season Saturday on the Charles River Basin. While the men trailed some tough opponents, including the Harvard Lightweights and Boston College, the women dominated, with the first, second and third varsity eights all taking first place. The 1V finished eight seconds ahead of the runner-up MIT lightweights, a Division One program. Meanwhile, the 2V outraced MIT by 20 seconds and the 3V easily won their one-on-one race with NESCAC foe Trinity. Junior first varsity eight stroke Hannah Fitts looks back on the first regatta of the spring season.
Aaron: Women's rowing great start to the season down there at the Charles River Basin, Hannah Fitts with us here on the Bobcast and Hannah, you're at the stroke position, first time in your collegiate career rowing at the stroke position. What was the experience like and what are some differences from you know, other spots in the boat perhaps?
Hannah: Yeah, it was really, really exciting. I absolutely loved it. It is fun to move around the boat. I've been in, I think almost every seat now, not the coxswain seat I don't fit there. But yeah, it was really exciting. We also starboard stroked our boat last year. So I don't think it was too different for anyone in the boat because most of us had experienced a starboard stroke boat last year, which just means that instead of the normal side, which is port side being stroke, it change to the starboard side. And the girl who is in seat seven, Sophia Rintell, and I had been her partner pair for almost are my entire career at Bates. So it feels really natural to be rowing with her. And you know, other than the fact that I don't have anyone sitting in front of me, and I'm not watching anyone's back anymore, it really was not that different other than that because a lot of what I felt like the stroking job came from is the power behind me and the rest of the boat.
Hannah: I ran up to my parents after the race, and I was like that was so much fun because like I could just feel the power behind me, and it was a really lively boat, and so they kind of did all the stroking work for me except for me just sitting there, and you know getting to look our coxswain Liza Folsom in the face, which was fun.
Aaron: For sure. And you're up against some tough competition, the MIT lightweights you know, they're a Division I program, what was it like to beat them after falling a little bit short last season?
Hannah: Yeah, it was really exciting. We're excited to go up against them after having lost to them by a couple of seconds last year. And we are ready to just kind of take this season, we are ready to just take this season by storm. We had no expectations, no idea where we were going to fall coming into this race. And I mean, the whole race plan stroke rating, and execution is just to do what we always do and stay calm and just kind of see where everything fell into place. And it ended up falling into place that we were kind of neck and neck with MIT lights for the first half of the race, we were maybe a seat or two ahead, and then we took our middle move coming under the bridge, which is always really exciting at this race on the Charles. We always have a big middle move it's not a surprise to anyone who has raced at Bates or anyone who's raced against Bates that we're good in the halfway mark.
Hannah: But what's really exciting about this race on the Charles is that there's a bridge at halfway so we take, you know, some powerful strokes coming through the halfway at the 1,000 mark, and you go under the bridge, kind of not knowing where you were before in the first half of the race and then we came out of the bridge just flying. And you know, Folsom had said that we took six seats on them in that middle move and coming out of the bridge, we were just up ahead of them. And then we're able to open up water on them, which was a really good feeling for the start of the season. But again, hard to compare since they aren't in our division so. But it was just fun.
Aaron: For sure. And then did you get a chance to watch the 2V or the 3V race, how did that go?
Hannah: Unfortunately we don't get to watch each other race on race day most of the time because the races are pretty close together and we were trying to take advantage of just being on the water so the warm up, the cool down, and then we got a little practice afterwards. We were really focusing in on our own boats but we did get to celebrate with everyone back at the food tent afterwards. And you know the 2V and 3V crushed it, looking back at the pictures they look like they rowed well, so that's always exciting to see.
Aaron: So after the races you had a practice?
Hannah: Yes, we did, which is awesome. I think all of us are ready to practice even more than we did, but you know we have to have some chill, I guess. But yeah, so we had a really early morning because the men's races started even before us and then we had a nice long break at the food tent with the parents and hanging out for a while and then we got back on the water because the Charles is open water, and I mean that's gold to us, that's all we want. We've been in the erg room for awhile, and we know that the river is still very frozen I mean even the puddle here is still frozen so. So, other than rowing in the pool getting our pool side work done and doing work in the erg room I mean we're just we're dying for open water, so we're going to take any chance we can get, and I think same for this upcoming weekend for being on the Charles again we'll get at least one practice in.
Aaron: It seems like this team just thrives when all you have is the erg room though. I mean that seems to be the way to go.
Hannah: That is absolutely true. We do love the erg room, and I think erging builds a lot of character, it builds soul. This team, if anything is gritty, and I think the erg room really builds that character. I mean, we're in there alone all winter, led by our captains and I mean they fearlessly lead us through a lot of sweat. And then we continue to be in spring season in the erg room and you know we have some really tough workouts and so morale is sometimes hard to find at this time of the year or maybe for other teams it would be but I think that for us we just like ... We expect to be in the erg room, and we expect to work, and we know that like the workouts that we do in there are what we'd be doing on the water. And the only difference is that we have mirrors surrounding us and not water running underneath us but a lot of the work that we're doing right now is in time so we're kind of imagining that we have the 23 ergs in there are all one boat.
Hannah: Our coxswains and coaches are constantly telling us you know, one boat stay in time, they'll turn our screens down if we're not in time. So we are really in that boat mentality now and so I think that really changes the focus and breaks up the winter and spring seasons into two separate things. Although we stay in that room for a while and we are now in that one boat one team mentality whereas the winter is a little more individual so spirits are so high. Yeah, you know it gets tough but we love to sweat all together and that room is really what builds us.
Aaron: For sure and then for you especially you were abroad in the fall so this has been a long time coming for you to get back on the water with the team.
Hannah: Oh my gosh, yes. It's a total homecoming. I am so happy to be back with the team, feels like being back home back with family. And yeah, I miss that room more than anything I think. And you know, I was able to row abroad, which was exciting but there's nothing like the Bates team. I mean, this ... Our coaches are extremely smart at just race strategy, it feels so fun because we can trust everyone because we all have the same mentality, we all have the same goals going into races. And we have an insanely strong group of men and women who just wants to work together and so coming back to that really does feel like I'm home.
Aaron: For sure, what do you have upcoming this weekend? Who's up next?
Hannah: So we're racing Harvard lightweights and then BU lightweights. This weekend, we're down at the Charles for a doubleheader this weekend that's for the women. Unfortunately, the men and the women are separated this weekend. The men are off racing in Worcester, but we'll be back on the Charles. And it's really exciting because we've raced Harvard lightweights before and that's always good competition. We've kind of gone back and forth the past couple years but BU lightweights I don't think we've ever raced before. And they're really strong program, they went really fast last weekend, on the same course that we did just an hour or two before us or I don't even know how long before us but not long.
Hannah: So comparing times they went faster, definitely faster than we did but we've also been on the water those two times since Florida, which happened on Saturday, and I think that as coach pointed out, you know one more stroke on the water is many more seconds to begin for speed for our boats and I think that these lightweights have a storm coming from Maine because, you know we just keep getting faster when we get on the water and we're also just like there are no expectations when we race people from other divisions, which I think is the best part of it. We can just kind of let go of any stress or pressure that we may feel when it's in-division competition. And we just get to go out there and you know, play with the big dogs who happen to be small this weekend.
Aaron: Right. Hannah Fitts, thanks so much for joining us on the Bodcast. Appreciate it.
Hannah: Yeah, thank you, Aaron.
Aaron: Sam Francis graduated from Bates in 2017 after playing for both the football and men’s lacrosse teams during his time as a Bobcat. The former Bates linebacker was recently featured on the Cincinnati Bengals’ website for his work in their front office as a Football Data Analyst. Francis is a football guy and a numbers guy and we chatted with him on the phone about his new gig in the National Football League.
Aaron: Sam, first of all congratulations on the gig and I'm just curious how did it all come about, how did you get connected with the Bengals?
Sam: Thanks Aaron. I appreciate that so it kind of all started ... Right after I graduated I went to work for the Bills actually through a connection of Clark Jones's father. So I was there for three or four months and then went and worked on the business analytics side of sports for the Kraft Analytics Group for about a year and a half. Kind of realized I wanted to be back on the football side, like I was in Buffalo, did some research online knowing that the season was wrapping up, and that's probably when NFL jobs will become available and found this one in Cincinnati and sent an application in.
Aaron: Excellent so how long have you been now with the Bengals and what's your favorite part of the new role here?
Sam: It's been about two weeks, I'm still pretty new to everything. I'm catching up with what they already have in place, and sort of spearheading where we're going to go in this coming season and in the coming years, especially with the new coaching staff, when you're building out these analytical product or technology products that they're going to use, it needs to be catered towards who's consuming it, right? Because you have coaches of different ages and different sophistication levels with technology. So I'm sort of starting to gauge those and talk with coaches and figure out what information they need, how they're going to consume it and starting to design the products we're going to create off of that.
Aaron: Wow. So two weeks, what was that transition like? Have you ever been to Cincinnati before to begin with?
Sam: I flew in for my interview, and that was the first time I'd been here. I didn't realize that it was right next to Kentucky. When I landed in the airport and found out I was in Kentucky. I was a little concerned.
Aaron: That right. What's the adjustment been like? I mean, what's the biggest adjustment you've had to make in terms of the team, are you studying a lot about their roster, or is that not really what your role is perhaps?
Sam: No, it's definitely part of it. My job at its core is to take all the information they have from a data perspective, right? So now that they have next gen stats, we are subscribed to Pro Football Focus, there's the data that the NFL provides, the data that the clubs track on their own and everything we sort of bring in and aggregate together, how can we utilize each of those sources and combine those sources to increase efficiency and just bring insights to the surface, right?
Sam: So instead of spending time, each week gathering information in order to make decisions, that information will come to the surface automatically. And you can just spend all your time making decisions in game planning. Part of that becomes player personnel and sort of player identification stuff, which we haven't gotten into yet. Because most of free agency and the vast majority of draft prep is already done. So I see that stuff coming. Starting to do more of that stuff coming in about a year from now. When we start that process, all over again at the end of the at the end of the season, but for now it's mostly how can I create these products so we have a fully functioning system come the start of the season?
Aaron: What was it like just a week in to have an in-depth article written about you and your team?
Sam: Yeah, it was nice, it's good to know that they are bought into this because this is sort of new field in a new direction that the NFL is going and to know that the organization is behind it enough to publish an article about it is big.
Aaron: And have you interacted at all with you know, Zac Taylor yet, the new head coach there?
Sam: Yeah, so the coaching staff has been sort of all over the place the past couple weeks, but I have had a couple conversations with them and I interviewed with him when I flew in about a month ago. But no, he's a great guy. He's open to a lot of ideas, very smart, very ... You know incorporates everyone and appreciate everyone's insights and I'm excited to work with them. He seems like a great coach.
Aaron: How did your time at Bates maybe prepare you for your role working in the game of football?
Sam: Yeah it starts with Coach Harriman, sort of how he taught the game and how he taught preparation and that plays in a lot to the role I'm in now, where my job is to take the other skills I acquired in school, and math, and economics, and apply those to how we prepare for football, right? So playing off of how coach Harriman taught me to prepare, that's definitely helped me be ready for this position, and then also just being able to take on a large workload, right? With double majoring at Bates and playing two sports there wasn't a lot of free time and especially when you're working in sports you, I don't know, I'm already used to those long nights and long hours. So, I'm definitely prepared in that sense.
Aaron: Yeah, talk a little bit more about your double major, and it did apply to what you're doing after you graduated and whatnot?
Sam: I double majored in math and econ so it's a lot of quantitative fields, right? So that's kind of how my brain is always worked, I've never been a literary type, where I write these creative articles and stuff like that it's been more ... I'm very black and white. There's a process to way things are done and sort of, can we quantify stuff down to a given number in order to gain insights in whatever it may be that we're looking at, right? So, that's sort of how I got my start, not really understanding what I was getting into when I went to Buffalo and just being an analytics intern, right?
Sam: A very broad title and I got lucky that I ended up with coach McDermott coming in and Rex Ryan leaving right when I was arriving in Buffalo, that I got placed ... Working in the football side of analytics, right? And that sort of opened my eyes to here's how the skills I learned in school and in my math classes and in my econ classes, and these computer programs I can use them to apply to football and sort of combine the two things I worked on while I was at school.
Aaron: Excellent. And then obviously the off-season right now, how will your role change if at all once the season actually get started?
Sam: Everything picks up in the next couple weeks with players report for their first OTA, minicamp next week, and the draft comes. And then all the off-season with training camp, and OTAs, and minicamps really picks up all throughout the summer and things really get going. In-season, we haven't really ironed out what my role is going to be or stuff like that, but it will definitely get busier with coaches have questions midweek, what's their tendency in this situation, what is so and so player doing when they're lined up in this, all that stuff? Like those are sort of ... That's kind of how we're going to build our product, right? We start with a base of a product and we present that to the coaches and they use it for week one, right? Or week one of the preseason, right? We're game planning, follow up questions come, they're looking at a certain dashboard that we made and they're like hey, that's interesting. Well, what about this? Here's the follow up question of that and that sort of iterates on our product, and allows us to fine tune it in order to fit exactly what they need. Right?
Sam: So it'll definitely be busy throughout the season and my job is basically to be a resource to them in order to answer all the questions that they have and provide information that they may not have been able to get to efficiently before.
Aaron: And the article on the website touches on this but you know, there's a stereotype, numbers guys and football guys, but you're both, how does that help you maybe with your job and whatnot?
Sam: Yeah, and that's something that I mean, I probably didn't fully understand it until I kind of came into interview here. But it's a rare combination of skills to have the technical skills and the computer programs that I use, but also have that football background where you can survive in a football environment, right? A lot of the applicants that they said that they got were other people with a semi analytical background who played football or people without a football background who were very technically advanced, right? And to find a combination and a happy medium of those two was very rare, and that's something that they made clear to me when I came in and started. And it's not something that I realized that it's that rare probably until that moment.
Aaron: Excellent. Last question for you. You're in Cincinnati now so have you tried any of the chili they have down there?
Sam: I haven't. No, I'm running the Boston Marathon in two weeks. So after I run the marathon then it'll be chili time.
Aaron: Yes. It's a very good idea not to have any of that before running a marathon I would definitely say that.
Sam: Yeah, it's on the checklist. I'll get to it.
Aaron: Sounds good. All right, Sam Francis Bates alum class 2017 football and men's lacrosse now a football data analyst with the Cincinnati Bengals. Thanks so much for joining us here on the Bobcast. Appreciate it.
Sam: Thanks Aaron. I appreciate your time.
Aaron: While the men’s tennis team dropped a pair of close matches at MIT and Babson over the weekend, the Bobcats return to NESCAC action this Thursday looking to improve their conference record to 2-0 when they host Colby at 4pm. The women’s tennis team is also home this week. The Bobcats host Tufts Saturday at 10am. Softball, baseball and women’s lacrosse are all home this Saturday. Find the complete schedule at gobatesbobcats.com and we’ll recap it all, next time, on the Bates Bobcast!