Frazier celebrates after a play vs. Utah (Photo by Mark Philbrick/BYU Photo)
He’s still the same player. Maybe he looks a little bigger than he did in high school. Maybe he has changed positions just a few times. But senior linebacker Jameson Frazier has always been the same player. A leader. A hard worker. Someone who believes his best work comes when he really wants to do something.
Frazier really wanted to play football.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound playmaker from Draper didn’t have the most clear-cut route to being named defensive co-captain of the 2011 BYU football team and now a Lott Trophy Watch List honoree.
Back in 2010’s season opener against Washington, he stood in the tunnel outside the locker room, ready to run out onto the field at LaVell Edwards Stadium. Knowing that he would be starting his first game at BYU, Frazier took a moment to reflect on the journey that had got him there.
“I thought for just a minute that I had made it and had finally accomplished what I wanted to,” Frazier said. “But then I realized I hadn’t started a game before, I hadn’t done anything at BYU yet and realized it was just the beginning. I thought to myself, alright, here I go.”
Frazier’s road to becoming a starter, captain and leader isn’t your typical blue-chip recruiting tale. He has been working for years to get where he is now. To say he took the long road to get where he is at is an understatement.
“I was just an athletic guy in high school, but I couldn’t really find the right fit,” Frazier said. “I didn’t really excel at wide receiver, I wish I would have played defense because I think that was more of my calling.”
At the time, Alta High was somewhat using him in the wide receiver rotation. He caught a few passes but nothing to get him genuine interest from any Division I programs.
Just because he felt like he wasn’t in the right position wasn’t going to stop him from trying. After all, Frazier has had a pretty good example of doing whatever it is you want to do, no matter what cards you are dealt.
Frazier is the son of former two-sport BYU athlete Danny Frazier. The elder Frazier was one of the first African-American athletes at BYU. Back in 1979, the 6-foot-5, 220-pound athletic specimen had NFL talent written all over him but his career was cut short with a broken neck in the season opener against Texas A&M. His priorities changed. It didn’t change his attitude and the attitude he would instill in his children in the years following.
“My dad just said if you want to do it, do it. If you don’t, don’t,” Frazier said of his father and football. “He said to do whatever I want, but whatever it was to do well at it.”
Danny went on to become a successful lawyer in Utah after giving up football due to the injury. His work-hard attitude has transcended to his son’s life and become a motto for the Fraziers.
“He has always encouraged me to do what I really want to do,” Frazier said. “I think we do our best work when we really want to do something.”
At first, Frazier wanted to play wide receiver at BYU, the position he saw action at in high school.
“I talked to some of the coaches and they said that there would be availabilities,” Frazier said. “I tried out at the position I really wanted to play and I got cut.”
The first step towards a sparkling BYU career in Frazier’s mind was definitely not getting cut. He hadn’t got to work out with the team at all and was cut right away at the start of the winter semester in 2005. Frazier decided just to focus on school but always had playing football in the back of his mind.
“There was a receiver that was helping out with the tryouts and said I was doing well but needed some work,” Frazier said. “That was promising and I figured I could probably do it but it would just have to be at some other time.”
The clock would tick on Frazier as he put school and football on hold and headed out on his mission at the end of that semester. He had been around BYU for a year but hadn’t had accomplished anything with the football team.
Frazier served in the Montreal, Canada mission from 2005 to 2007. His mission helped him as he gained perspective and grew up as a man.
“It made me more mature, more responsible, more level-headed, more focused and more deliberate with everything I did,” Frazier said. “It was a growing up time for me. I was able to see all the blessings and opportunities I had available to me.”
Upon his return home, more opportunities would present themselves, and Frazier’s deeper understanding and appreciation for the more important things in life helped him on the football field as well.
“When you come home from a mission you are extremely optimistic about your future,” Frazier said. “You are really a go-getter I guess you could say.”
Frazier would definitely have to do some go-getting in the months after his return if he ever wanted to play Cougar football. He arrived home in time for the fall 2007 season and decided to try out again. This time he planned on trying out a new position, defensive back, figuring it might be a better fit since he struggled at wide receiver. He made it a little bit further passed the initial cuts.
“This time I was really only allowed to work out with the team at 6 a.m. because I wasn’t ready to be on the team officially,” Frazier said. “The coaches were bringing people up but I never got called up.”
Another season gone by and Frazier still hadn’t officially been part of the team.
After the football season was over, Frazier continued to work out with the team but had never really secured a spot on the roster. He was able to participate in spring football camp but didn’t really see a lot of promise.
“I was playing safety, jumping back and forth between free and strong safety,” Frazier said. “Let’s just say I wasn’t really moving up the depth chart.”
Not moving up the depth chart my have been an understatement. There were probably about four or five guys in front of him, with better, younger players being added to the roster as well.
As Frazier says, “It just wasn’t happening.”
When spring football came to a close, again Frazier didn’t see his name on the roster and was cut yet again. This time he had inched a bit closer to his dream. Frazier was thought of as a “bubble” player, or someone who was close to making the roster but they just didn’t have enough room.
Frazier got some news a few months later when the coaches called him just before fall camp with an idea.
“They told me they had a spot for me,” Frazier said. “As long as you are willing to play wide receiver.”
Not exactly what Frazier thought would happen as he felt like he played better on defense than as a pass catcher. Of course he accepted the chance to be part of the team and do what he could. He ran with the scout team for most of the 2008 season, running routes and catching passes, helping the defense get ready from week to week. He was still weighing in at about 195 pounds and was trying to bulk up and catch up with the team. Then he got another call.
“They asked me if I would play some linebacker,” Frazier said. “At this point, I said sure why not. As long as I am getting a shot I might as well take whatever opportunity they give me.”
That’s when things really started to change.
Meanwhile, with all this football going on, Frazier still managed to find time to find that special someone. His wife Tina has been through the ups and downs of his football career. She has always been supportive and his biggest fan, though sometimes it comes with a price.
“She is a huge supporter and never really complains,” Frazier said. “She doesn’t like it so much with how much time I am gone. She might have a moment or two at the beginning of fall camp but then she realizes its just football and I still love her of course.”
For the newlyweds with a husband trying to make it as a walk-on linebacker in 2009, school, marriage and football had become a financial burden. The couple had talked about it and decided after that season if Frazier hadn’t gotten a scholarship yet, he would have to give up football.
“I never really knew if Coach Mendenhall was a fan of mine or not,” Frazier said. “I knew he had given scholarships to walk-ons before so I was hopeful if I worked hard I might earn one.”
That season, Frazier would be backing up outside linebackers Colby Clawson and Jordan Pendleton, seeing some time on special teams. Then Frazier got called in to Mendenhall’s office.
“He said he had a scholarship for me, I was shocked,” Frazier said. “Right now? I didn’t think it was going to come.”
Now a player on scholarship, relieved of some of the financial pressures as a student and a married man, Frazier was finally seeing the fruits of his labors. He saw action in 11 games in 2009 including traveling in his first road game to Dallas Cowboys Stadium to take on the No. 3 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. With over 75,000 people in attendance it was quite the first-time road atmosphere-especially with a 14-13 win.
“It was big for me, being my first time on the road with the team,” Frazier said. “Before that it was tough, not being on scholarship, not really playing you don’t feel like you are part of anything. Finally I was contributing, and in a place like that, that’s when I really felt part of a team.”
Before that experience, Frazier said that football had felt more like work. Now it was becoming fun.
Being a linebacker was still new to him, however. He was learning fast but felt like if he just continued to try his hardest he would be able to figure it out. His hard work and effort would continue to pay off.
After a long road of ups and downs, being cut multiple times and several position changes, Frazier earned the starting nod for the 2010 season opener.
“It felt like a long prelude to the beginning of the real thing,” Frazier said of getting his first start.
Being named a starter and opening up with a 23-17 win over the Washington Huskies, everything seemed be taking off for Frazier and the Cougars. A flood of reality would soon come pouring in. BYU lost four-straight games, most in miserable fashion. The offense could never find a rhythm and the defense was surrendering big chunks of yards and too many points.
“It was tough because it seemed like we could win those games,” Frazier said. “I knew we had the potential to beat those teams we lost to. It was frustrating because I was trying to figure out what I needed to do to help my team and get us out of the rut we were in.”
It got even more frustrating when Frazier broke his thumb against Nevada during the losing streak. The injury required surgery and sidelined him for the next few weeks.
“I felt like I was leaving my team in their moment of need,” Frazier said. “It was tough to have to go at that time.”
A change needed to happen. The team was sick of losing and open to anything and trying something new. Mendenhall made some coaching changes and insert himself as the defensive coordinator. The team was ready to be pushed, tested and held accountable.
“Everyone was willing to do whatever it took,” Frazier said. “Coach just made sure that we were doing everything possible we needed to do and held us accountable for everything. If the scout team gained a yard, it was bad news for us.”
The 2010 Cougars started to find themselves in the second half of the season. With the defense’s renewed energy, the entire team took off. BYU won five or their last six games and capped the season off with a dominating 52-24 win over UTEP in the New Mexico Bowl.
Heading into 2011, Frazier figured he would see lots of playing time and continue to see improvement from an up and coming BYU team. He didn’t even imagine what would happen next.
“I was going to be a senior and just figured Coach Mendenhall was calling all the seniors into his office to talk about being a senior leader,” Frazier said. “He announced the captains, and I was one of them. It was really surprising, I never thought I had made that much of an impact.”
He definitely made an impact, with his teammates voting him as a captain. One teammate especially, fellow captain and former walk-on Travis Uale, has been influenced by Frazier’s story.
“We kind of came from the same situation and he was put on a scholarship even before I was,” Uale said. “His example showed me I still needed to work harder to get where he was.”
Uale noticed Frazier’s work ethic and leadership has been a factor in why his teammates think so highly of him.
“He’s come such a long way and his hard work has paid off,” Uale said. “I think his influence has been great because he has not only helped himself but every other walk-on that has aspirations of earning a scholarship.”
The experiences he has had along his football career have made an impact on him, especially from a memorable up and down 2010 season and the young 2011 campaign.
“Looking back on last season, and the start of this one, it was amazing to even be able to go to a bowl game and end like we did, considering how things were going,” Frazier said. “It has been the most fun I have ever had playing football and it is great to see the change that we have made. It was the same players and just awesome to see how different we have become.”
Frazier has made a lot of changes too and been through a lot through out his career. He’s made the transition from average high school wide receiver to eventual team captain at outside linebacker. He has been cut, left out and gone relatively unknown. But he’s still the same player. A leader. A hard worker. Someone who believes he does his best work when he really wants to do something.
And now, that’s just playing football again.
It’s No Cakewalk
It’s never easy to do something when you’re not supposed to. When you’re told no, you’re not good enough, its not for you, a lot of people might give up. For a small group of BYU football players, it’s just what they needed to hear.
A typical BYU football team has anywhere between 30 and 40 walk-ons at different points in the season, with 20 or so seeing substantial playing time during the season. These walk-ons weren’t recruited and offered scholarships, at least not at BYU.
They have put in countless hours with no guarantee of playing time or even ever running out of the tunnel at LaVell Edwards Stadium. But every football team needs them, and they need the football team.
“Coach Mendenhall has a deep respect for walk-ons because he was one but he sees how hard they try,” safety Travis Uale, also a former walk-on said. “Everyone on the team tries hard, but a walk-on has nothing to lose and everything to prove.”
Some of the most notable walk-ons in recent history have all become major contributors and some even team leaders and captains. Cougar safeties Andrew Rich and Scott Johnson were both walk-ons and NFL pro-bowler Chad Lewis walked on at BYU among many others.
At tryouts, the coaches only have so many open roster spots and are often times looking for a certain need. They will try to weed out players who don’t have what it takes or don’t fit into the plan they have.
Often times, the coaches just want to figure out who has “it” and look for players that won’t give up after being told no. A few players will understand this and keep pushing until they eventually break through, maybe eventually earning a scholarship.
Scholarships are able to cover the cost of tuition, books, living expenses and not much else. Players easily spend countless hours a week with football related activities, including practice, film sessions and team meetings. Add in a full load of classwork and there isn’t a whole lot of free time.
As a walk on, you’d have to pay for those things on your own, and still be expected to be present at all team activities and never miss class. With little time for a job, unless parents and family help out it can be nearly impossible.
That is why these players are so special. They go above and beyond what is expected and thought of as “normal” for a college student and find a way to make it work. Walk-on athletes do more than fill holes in a team. They set an example of drive and determination for everyone, coaches and players alike.
Sometimes a player will catch the coach’s eye enough and make it.