Jahniko Francis a step closer to becoming rugby professional
Jahniko Francis could be on the verge of fulfilling his childhood dream of playing professionally after being selected for the Premier Rugby Sevens player draft pool in the United States.
The 24-year-old was one of two Bermudian-based players, along with Dzuri Gill, to head to open trials In Charlotte, North Carolina, where they were given the chance to catch the eye of coaches from the eight franchise teams in a number of skills and matches.
While Gill’s outing ended prematurely through injury, Francis impressed sufficiently to earn a place in the pool and he is likely to be awarded a professional contract in one of two drafts on either April 9 or May 5, in advance of the season starting on June 17.
“It’s really exciting and just a tremendous opportunity for me, I’m just really happy,” he said.
“I was introduced to rugby at the age of seven by a mentor because I was a little bit mischievous and, looking back, I never would have imagined I would be given an opportunity like this.
“I fell in love with the game and since then it’s just been a dream to be able play professionally one day. This is a huge opportunity and I’m determined to do whatever is needed to make sure it happens.
“It would mean everything to me and I know it would mean a lot to all of my family. It also would have meant so much to my brother [Jahcari Francis], who used to play but was sadly gunned down [in 2017]. It took a big toll on all of us but it has made me really push and now hopefully I can make my whole family proud.”
Despite suffering from nerves going ahead of his rugby tryout, Francis is confident he did more than enough to earn a contract after receiving plaudits on the day for his performance.
“I was definitely feeling a bit nervous but once I got going I felt great and I knew I had the backing of the whole rugby community back home in Bermuda, which gave me a lot of confidence.” Francis said.
“I left feeling really good about my chances because my number kept getting called out during the tests and matches. The coaches obviously had a good chance to take a look at me and a couple have reached out to me regarding the upcoming season so I think my chances of being picked are looking good.”
His chances have also been enhanced by the league expanding ahead of this season, meaning coaches will be filling their rosters with a large number of players from the draft pool.
As the first major standalone club rugby sevens league in the world, the expansion of the league to two four-team conferences playing across the country, only adds to the fast-growing nature of the sport in the United States and the sport’s rise in prominence is something that Francis is desperate to be a part of.
“Rugby is definitely getting bigger in the US and it would be really exciting to able to be a part of that,” said Francis. “A lot of people are getting into the sport and I was surprised by the number of people who were at the trials.
“You can see what they are trying to do with the league and I’m just hopeful now that I am picked up by one of the teams.
“Whatever happens going forward, just being part of the trials was an amazing experience and gave me some valuable lessons. However, I will give everything to make sure I’m successful.”
As well as taking a step closer to becoming a professional, Francis has also been making positive strides internationally after being named vice captain of the Bermuda men’s sevens team for the Central American and Caribbean Games in El Salvador in June.
“We’re all looking forward to the Games and hopefully we can take another big step in our recent progression as a team,” he added. “I feel like we’ve come on really strongly and I’m excited to see what we can do, I know we’re all looking forward to it.”
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