INDIANAPOLIS – Ricky Jean-Francois learned at an early age about what it took to play "in the bigs."
As a 10-year old, he was playing for the 150-pound Miami Carol City Chiefs and most of his teammates were eighth- or ninth-graders. He just went about his business.
"They'd say, 'You're supposed to be playing with the 95-pounders.' To play with the 150-pounders, you had to put your big boy pads on real early."
The Miami-area native whose family roots extend to Haiti later chose LSU because of the nature of the program run by Nick Saban. Those same types of pads were needed in the SEC.
"I liked the image of the program," said Jean-Francois. "I saw the program he ran, the type of guys he brought in. You see it at Alabama now. He has three titles at Alabama and had one with us. It was a pro-type program that turned out men."
Jean-Francois is five years into his NFL career, and this will be his first one in Indianapolis.
Two of his four seasons in San Francisco (2009-12) were played under Greg Manusky, now the Colts' coordinator. That relationship is speeding Jean-Francois through the adaptive process with the Colts.
"Yeah, that's the main thing. When I came here, the biggest thing that made the difference was that I knew him," said Jean-Francois. "I knew what was trying to be accomplished. I knew what he seeks.
"Basically, I'm looking through his eyes – third-and-one, second-and-eight. I already know the defense. I already know what he wants, so it won't be hard to pick up."
Jean-Francois played 19 of his 51 career games under Manusky, and he has started every game for the past three seasons.
He was a component on a 49ers line that reached the conference championship game in 2011, then went past it in 2012 in reaching Super Bowl XLVII.
Cory Redding came from Baltimore with Chuck Pagano, and he sees the value of the addition of Jean-Francois to the 3-4 defense.
"Just his knowledge of the game helps," said Redding. "He played under Greg Manusky. He understands the game and system. He has a good feel for where he is incorporated in this system and scheme and how he can best use his skills to make plays.
"He's going to come in strong. His rhythm for the game, his knowledge of the defense is something we're going to need."
Jean-Francois credits teammate Aubrayo Franklin as one voice during his career to tell him to master one true position but to be fluent with others so he can be used by coaches in every situation.
"Right now, he's on the interior," said Redding recently. "He's the three-technique now. End, nose, three-technique, we're pretty much looking at one thing right now and expand everything for him. He'll have to learn a little bit of nose and end in case something happens."
Jean-Francois acknowledges the usual "bumps here and there" even in a familiar system, but a portion of getting to speed means things away from the field, too.
"It's basically like a lot of people say, football is a copy-cat league," said Jean-Francois. "Everybody probably does the same things. It's when they do it and how they disguise it and everything like that.
"I knew a lot of the guys and played with them on different teams or played against them in college. The only thing for me was getting adjusted to the city and start moving things from home to my new home.
"I've learned what 'Naptown' means. I've learned what 'Circle City' means. Things like that, I'm learning. It's really not taking me long."