If not for a pesky custodian, a lot of people around Princeton High in Cincinnati wouldn’t know that assistant principal Hiawatha Francisco was once considered one of the best high school running backs in the country.
Francisco ran for 3,319 yards at Moeller (Cincinnati) and was named to the first American Family Insurance ALL-USA football team as a senior in 1982 while helping lead the Crusaders to the state title and the No. 1 ranking in the Super 25.
That was a little more than 35 years ago, however, before any of the students at Princeton were born and even before many of their parents were born.
Last month, the Cincinnati Enquirer did a story about Francisco and his role in what once was a great football rivalry between Moeller and Princeton.
“The kids are now starting to say something, because the teachers are talking and the custodians have put the story up in the walls of the cafeteria,” Francisco said. “I think that’s attributed to the type of relations I have with everyone in the building. The custodian, whom I call Capt. Dave because he was a reservist, I can’t remember which branch, put the articles up. I said, ‘You’re embarrassing me.’ He said, ‘People need to know.’ ”
Francisco is one of the few people to ever play for the same coach in high school and college. His coach at Moeller his freshman and sophomore years was Jerry Faust, who then became Francisco’s head coach at Notre Dame.
Francisco said he wanted to play for Faust at Moeller, but there was one problem. His parents were divorced and his mother, a school teacher, couldn’t afford the tuition.
“I wanted to play for him at Moeller, but it was expensive,” Francisco said. “I grew up poor. We were on government assistance and we would eat government cheese and peanut butter.”
Faust got Francisco a non-paying job at Moeller in lieu of tuition and Franciso’s younger brother, D’Juan, followed him at Moeller and Notre Dame.
At Notre Dame, Francisco ran for 538 yards and three touchdowns in three seasons as a running back (as a sophomore he played defensive back), but was plagued with knee injuries. He had knee surgeries after each season at Notre Dame and has had 15 overall.
While he said he maintained his speed, beating Tim Brown and others in a 40-yard run when Francisco was a senior, NFL teams did not draft him. He began a career as a college assistant, first with Faust at Akron.
“I started out as a graduate assistant at Akron,” Francisco said. “I’d follow that man anywhere. He’s a great man.”
He followed that with stints as an assistant at Cincinnati and Eastern Michigan, but his mother had always encouraged him to go into education and he started out in administration, first at a middle school in Niles, Mich. For the past three years, he’s been at Princeton.
He said he feels he has the varied background that helps him relate to all of the students at Princeton, not just the athletes.
“It’s really about building relationships,” he said. “I’m a big proponent of building relationships. I do card tricks to break the ice and get them to talk. You really try to maintain the culture and climate of the school,” Francisco said. “My job is evaluating teachers, dealing with discipline, being out in the hallways to enforce the rules and support the kids.”