Class of 1934

Sam Francis

HometownDunbar, NE
High schoolOberlin, Kan.

Dana X. Bible’s mid-1930s Nebraska teams had some talent. They had three players — Sam Francis (first overall), Lloyd Cardwell (No. 7) and Les McDonald (No. 8) — chosen in the first round of the 1937 NFL draft.

Most players of that era didn’t have "specialization" in their vocabulary. Francis was no exception. Born in Dunbar, Nebraska, he graduated from high school in Oberlin, Kansas. Legendary University of Kansas coach Phog Allen thought he was getting Francis for basketball, but the prospect was uncomfortable in a visit to Lawrence.

It was Nebraska’s gain. Francis, a 6-foot, 207-pound fullback-halfback, helped the Huskers to a solid football run under Bible: 6-3 in 1934, followed by consecutive Big Six championships in 1935 (6-2-1) and 1936 (7-2). Francis was all-conference in his last two seasons and a first-team All-American in 1936. He was the runner-up to Yale’s Larry Kelley for the Heisman Trophy as a senior.

Francis was also one of NU’s track and field greats. He twice swept the conference indoor and outdoor shot put titles, and won an NCAA title in that event in 1937. He finished fourth in the shot in the 1936 Olympics.

Francis was drafted into the NFL by the Philadelphia Eagles, who traded his rights to the Chicago Bears. He played for the Bears, Brooklyn Dodgers and Pittsburgh in a four-year career. He and Irving Fryar (New England, 1984) remain the only Husker players to be overall No. 1 NFL draft choices.

Francis left the game to earn a master’s degree from the University of Iowa. He served in the Army in World War II. He was named to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1977. Francis died in 2002 at 88.

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