When Donald Heaven wasn’t playing in the Canadian Football League, he came home to his alma mater at Miami Carol City High School to coach track and field. One of the school’s greatest athletes, Heaven won a state title in football and the shot put, then went on to play offensive tackle at Florida State. He had the name to earn immediate respect from an ambitious freshman in 2002. That’s when Heaven met Ricky Jean Francois. “I remember this real skinny kid who was so wiry but real strong,” Heaven said. Jean Francois knew then what he wanted — “to play D-line.” Heaven was taken aback. “For real?” Heaven asked. So began a bond that would help Jean Francois realize his dreams. Who better to teach a defensive lineman the tricks of the trade than an offensive tackle? Heaven gushes with pride today about his pupil, who signed a four-year, $22 million contract in March to play defensive line for the Indianapolis Colts. “It brought a tear to my eye,” Heaven said. “To know where he came from, to see everything come to fruition, it’s a real blessing.” Jean Francois is known these days as “The Freak” for his freakish athleticism in a body that matured to 6-3 and 295 pounds. He’s versatile enough to play any of the three line positions in the Colts’ 3-4 scheme. After four years in San Francisco, he has earned his chance to be a full-time starter. And he hasn’t forgotten how he got here. “He just had to get it out of me,” Jean Francois said of Heaven. “I was a person who worked well under pressure. At one point in time, I was lackadaisical. But once I had someone like that behind me, he really got me moving.” Heaven, 35, recently moved to Seattle, where he’s a warehouse manager and personal trainer. He still critiques Jean Francois. “At times, he will call me after he sees me in a game,” Jean Francois said. “ ‘You’re not low enough. You’re not using your hands enough.’ He still sees it. You expect him to do that.
Ricky Jean Francois still gets line play advice from mentor Heaven
Indianapolis Star | Jun 22