The Journey of Freddie Frazier: How Hardship & Adversity Fuel One Man’s Dream of the NFL
February 23, 2016.
Freddie Frazier is just weeks removed from his final season of NCAA eligibility. He took full advantage of his time with the Bethany Swedes, posting 79 tackles, with 15 TFLs and 2 forced fumbles. In addition to those stats from the defensive end position, Frazier contributed on special teams, blocking 3 field goals.
Frazier is an athletic freak; a 6’4” defensive end with a wingspan totaling almost 6’9”. He weighs in at just over 260 lbs.
On this day, prospects are gathering for the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. College football’s premiere players will test their skills against one another in a series of athletic tests.
Freddie Frazier is not there. He is at Titus Sports Academy in Tallahassee, training for his own chance to impress NFL scouts.
At Lucas Oil Stadium, Dadi Nicolas steps up to have his vertical jump measured. He posts a 41” leap, helping his draft stock and claiming him the title of top performer in that drill out of those at his position lucky enough to be invited to Indianapolis.
In Florida’s capital, Freddie Frazier continues his individual work. He sets his feet and launches up, slapping the tabs of the Vertec device that measures the athlete’s elevation.
Frazier’s 42” leap would have won him the positional title at the combine.
Earlier in the week, defensive linemen prepared to test their ability in the bench press at the combine. Chris Mayes takes home the crown in this drill among defensive lineman, repping 225 lbs. 33 times.
Frazier settles onto his bench at Titus. He sets his hands, takes a deep breath, and puts up the same number of reps on identical weight. However, Frazier’s trainer does not allow him to bounce the bar off of his chest as prospects sometimes do at the combine. He estimates he could hit 40 reps if he were to follow their form.
The 40-yard dash is the weekend’s most popular drill at the combine. Shaq Lawson, one of college football’s most productive linemen in 2016, enters his stance. He shoots off of the line, posting an impressive 4.70 time.
After working with Olympic sprinters at the Titus facility, Frazier is confident in his 40-yard dash times. While Lawson posted his 4.70 in front of the entire nation, Freddie Frazier ran his 4.69 under the watchful eye of those who were also at the facility. Frazier knows he can be proud of this number, but he also knows it won’t be making headlines.
The 2016 NFL Scouting Combine shines a light upon hundreds of prospects in Indianapolis. Many leave with their draft stocks elevated, preparing to have their names called by Commissioner Roger Goodell eight weeks later in Chicago.
Freddie Frazier should be just as happy with his numbers. Had he been able to display his talents at the combine, he could have been a Day 2 pick, following in the path of other “workout warriors” whose stock soars based on athletic testing. However, Frazier is not upset by the lack of an invitation. He did not expect to be brought to Lucas Oil Stadium to compete against the sport’s biggest names from the collegiate level.
While the combine might be a chance for some of football’s greatest athletes to steal the show, trained in state-of-the-art facilities with thousands of dollars invested in their conditioning, their success is not guaranteed despite what they are told by the managers and agents who spend months placing them high on a pedestal.
Frazier is approaching the NFL as an experienced steed, not built up through the pampering of a large program, but having become the man he is today as a product of struggle and hard work.
Freddie Frazier has been faced with multiple circumstances that would have broken most men. However, he still wakes up each morning to arrive at the gym at 7 a.m., not returning home until 4 p.m., all in order to make sure his body is prepared. He works on his agility and explosiveness, followed by a strength regimen put together by the staff at Titus. Why does Freddie Frazier still wake up each day and put himself through this incredibly strenuous series of activities?
Because when you’ve experienced what he has, there’s nothing else you can do but fight for your dream.
“I Just Wanted to Sack the Quarterback”:
Many football players tell a story of falling in love with the game immediately upon donning their pads for the first time. That initial glimpse through the facemask, and they’re hooked.
Freddie Frazier does not create that illusion with his first experience in football.
In 1995, upon joining the Coral Reef Broncos, one of South Florida’s pee-wee teams, as the team’s running back, Frazier was not intoxicated by the game. However, his talent was obvious to anyone who saw him line up at running back for the Broncos.
Frazier then started to play Pop Warner with Miami’s elite youth teams, and it clicked. “I felt like they were my brothers, and that was the only place I got that.” His voice changes tone when he talks about those teammates. It is clear that Frazier loves the bond with his fellow athletes as much as he loves the game itself. He wanted to play for them and work with his newfound football family to achieve a common goal.
However, it was not only a newfound love of those he shared the locker room with that helped Frazier fall in love with the game, but it was also a glimpse of an ultimate goal he could work towards.
“I had this old tape of the NFL with reruns, and I see Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas,” Frazier said when asked about how his love of the game was sparked. He did not fall in love with the game simply by stepping onto a field. Witnessing greatness sparked the competitive fire inside of Frazier.
“When I saw that, I said, ‘Oh yeah, I want to be just like this.’”
He didn’t want to be good. He wanted to be great.
Frazier made the switch, abandoning the running back position as his size continued to increase and his admiration shifted towards figures like Derrick Thomas and Lawrence Taylor.
As he grew as a player, Frazier would actually take a step to, quite literally, follow in his idol’s footsteps. Frazier attended South Miami High School, where Derrick Thomas made a name for himself as a fierce pass rusher.
Freddie Frazier received DI offers, but needed to improve his GPA if he wanted to go directly to a big name program. In order to improve his grades and earn a chance to play for a Power 5 program on Saturdays, Frazier elected to attend El Camino, a junior college in the state of California.
El Camino would allow Frazier to escape any potential distractions, placing his focus squarely on the game of football.
In Southern California, Frazier dominated with the Warriors. “I thought football was going to be different, but it was the same.” He had been primed for success by the competitive nature of South Florida high school football.
“In the first week, we set a sack record.” Frazier, in humble fashion, glossed over this fact fairly quickly. He didn’t draw too much attention to it. I stopped him and asked how many sacks his team accumulated in the game.
“Something like 14 or 15.”
It was no wonder that Frazier began to receive Division I interest by the fourth week of the season. Frazier describes the process as crazy, saying he received “bookoo offers,” with several coaches writing letters and calling him about his services.
Amongst the wave of requests for his services was one from a school that he grew up idolizing: the University of Miami.
“Ah.” Frazier lets out a long sigh of exaggerated joy when asked about what it meant to have a chance to play football in green and orange. Frazier said he did not receive a letter from Miami, the school he grew up revering. He got something better.
Linebacker coach Michael Barrow, who now occupies the same position with the Seattle Seahawks, wanted Frazier with the program. Emphasizing every word when asked about the excitement he felt at that time, Frazier simply called it a “dream come true.”
However, Frazier knew it might not be in his best interest to attend the U, despite the obvious emotional attachment he felt to the school.
“The U was stacked and had just hit Miami hard [in recruiting]. I knew that with my offer from Kansas, I could go play right away. That’s the only reason I chose Kansas; I could go play right then and right there.”
It was off to Lawrence for Freddie Frazier.
We all face roadblocks in life. However, very few could even fathom the event that derailed the college football career of a very promising young defensive lineman.
“I Had to Help Her”:
In December of 2012, Freddie Frazier flew home for the holidays. The California JUCO football season had ended, and Freddie was able to go visit his family.
He did not expect that he wouldn’t be returning to El Camino.
“It was a week before Christmas, and I was downstairs cleaning up the house. I saw some papers on the floor. I picked them up, and when I read it…”
Freddie takes a lengthy pause. Nobody could be prepared for the information that Frazier was about to receive, let alone in the way he was about to receive it.
What Frazier had stumbled upon were hospital documents. This was a surprise to him, as he read his mother’s name, Lenora Tompkins, atop the papers. He spoke with his mother frequently throughout the season, but she hadn’t mentioned any illness.
Frazier began to put the pieces together. He had noticed that his mom was losing weight. “When she picked me up at the airport, she looked different. She was always a larger woman, around 5’11”, 220, and it looked like she had lost 15-25 pounds.” He immediately began to comb through the papers, and what he found is something that no son ever wants to discover.
“When I read those papers…that crushed me, man.”
Freddie wanted to hear it from her. “I didn’t ask her right away. I asked her if everything was okay.” Freddie says she knew something wasn’t right based on his line of questioning.
“Please, just tell me mom. Please tell me,” he pleaded as tears began to pool in his eyes.
His mother knew. She began to cry as well, knowing that her efforts to shield her son from her condition had come to a screeching halt.
Freddie Frazier’s mother had been fighting cancer for two years.
Since the beginning of Freddie’s college decision process through his triumphant debut at El Camino, he did not know that his mother was back home in a battle greater than any he had undertaken on the football field.
Lenora didn’t want to tell Freddie. She wasn’t going to tell Freddie. She knew what football meant to him and didn’t want to jeopardize his efforts to chase his dream.
However, Freddie knew what he had to do. His mom had another son as well. Freddie’s half-brother was just seven-years old, with a father in prison. Freddie’s own father was also incarcerated, convicted of second-degree murder in 1995.
There was nobody else as capable as Freddie of helping his mother through this time. “She kept telling me no, no, no.” However, he knew how dire the situation was.
“She couldn’t go to work, so we were in the dark. Our lights would go out for 2-3 months at a time. I wasn’t going to have that.”
Freddie Frazier’s mind had already been made up. The decision was not a hard one to make, but it was certainly difficult to stomach.
Freddie informed the University of Kansas that he would not be able to join their team. He did not return to El Camino.
With the same tenacity that Freddie attacked the game of football, he would attack the process of providing for his family.
Nobody’s life changed more that day than Freddie’s. “I would wake up and try to get a quick workout in,” which was clearly a change from the scripted and intensive fitness regimen of NCAA athletes. What did Frazier do for work as a high school graduate with no college degree? He washed cars and mowed lawns.
“My uncle was the boss, and he had a van.” They would drive around Miami, with areas like SW 59th street becoming frequent stops. Washing as few as six cars a day, Freddie’s uncle let him keep most of their profits with full knowledge as to what he needed the income for.
Freddie Frazier went from being a heralded athlete to washing cars. That transition would break the will of most individuals. Not Freddie’s.
“That was the lowest of the low. But you couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t going to get back on someone’s radar.”
Freddie lost many things in that time. However, he refused to give up the three things that define him:
While Freddie was working to support his mother, she was locked in the fight of her life. Thankfully, she did not have to go through that fight without the support of her son.
“Our bond was getting tighter. I would go with her to every appointment.” His role as the leader of the household was a new position for him, but one that allowed him to do what he knew was the right thing: helping his mother in whatever way he could.
Unfortunately, his mother’s fight reached a point where the question turned from “if” to “when.”
Freddie Frazier got his drive and will from his mother. He was raised without the presence of his father and looked to her to guide the way. Through her battles as a single parent, she set an example for Freddie in never giving up.
Lenora would set that example one last time, fighting not for herself, but for Freddie’s younger brother, Earnest “Peter” Kirkland.
“She told me she was going to live until his 10th birthday.”
On August 25th of 2013, Peter turned 10 years old.
It was also the day that Lenora Tompkins passed away at the age of 43.
If you were wondering where Freddie’s unbreakable spirit comes from, it was born and bred through his mother’s determination and will, both of which left an indelible mark on her son.
Freddie did not speak at the funeral. “I was shaking. It was like a sick nightmare.” While this process was immensely difficult for Freddie, once the casket had been lowered, there was no question in his mind regarding his next step.
“I Knew What She Wanted”:
He answers my question before I can finish asking it.
Freddie Frazier wasted no time refocusing on his dream. It was his mourning process. His mother did not want him to leave school and interrupt his goals. The best way for him to honor her memory was to do what he had set out to as a young man falling in love with the game of football.
Lenora’s goal was to make it to Peter’s 10th birthday.
Freddie’s goal is to make it to the NFL.
Due to the timing of his mother’s passing, he was not eligible to play that season of college football. So, he knew he would not be sticking at the university.
This is where Freddie’s journey became difficult from an institutional standpoint. He needed to find somewhere to play where he could return to scouts’ radar.
Freddie called schools himself. “They didn’t want me. They didn’t know if I still had the same ability.” He was 24 years old.
An NCAA eligibility situation put Frazier’s 2014 season in jeopardy. He was brought in by Midland University. The NCAA did not allow him to pick up a ways into the team’s 2014 efforts, meaning he would not be able to play until 2015.
However, he found a lifeline upon which he could call heading into last year’s college football season.
Paul Hubbard was Frazier’s defensive coordinator at Midland, where he was unable to play during 2014. Hubbard was hired as the head coach for a small DIII college in Kansas called Bethany. Frazier made the call, telling Hubbard he knew he could still play.
Hubbard obliged, bringing in Frazier with a spot on the roster. Not only did Freddie represent a young football player with untapped potential, but also a chance to add another leader to the team’s locker room.
Freddie Frazier became the elder sage of Bethany Football. He turned a perceived disadvantage, his age, into something that helped him become an asset to his team.
“My position coach was 24. From day one, I told him ‘You’re the coach. I’m the player. I respect whatever you tell me to do.’” Frazier helped instill that same level of respect in other players, recalling an instance in which a player disrespected that same young coach.
When Frazier chastised the freshman, the teammate responded by saying, “You’re older than the coach, why are you listening to him?” Frazier’s response? “Whatever he says, you do it.”
Regardless of what players thought of their coaches, they had no choice but to respect Freddie. They knew of his history, not because he used events in his life as an excuse, but because he used those experiences to help others.
When Freddie Frazier arrived at Bethany, a freshman he befriended was having issues with his mother. The conflict stemmed from his mother’s inability to pay certain bills and fulfill financial obligations. Frazier saw that this conflict was affecting his teammate and decided to become involved, a rare decision for a first-year college teammate.
“You’ve got to be thankful that you’ve got a mom,” Frazier told him. He did not invoke his own story to place guilt on his teammate. He invoked it to help provide perspective.
Frazier’s final words of wisdom to the young athlete?
“If I can do anything to help you out, let me know and I will do it. But please, call your mother, because I would do anything to call my mother again.”
Freddie Frazier later received a call from the teammate’s mom. She thanked him, saying that her relationship with her son improved vastly, fighting back tears as she expressed her gratitude.
This is where Freddie Frazier understands what must be done as a member of a team to find success. As much as football requires to presence of physical leaders, emotional leaders are needed in the locker room too. Freddie’s experiences allow him to lead fellow players in a way that is not possible for other athletes.
A team is defined as a “group of people who work together.” Sure, there are franchises with locker rooms made up of players who simply work together. However, there is a better word to describe not only what truly builds a successful team, but also what embodies the characteristics that Freddie Frazier lives his life by.
Brotherhood: “a group that shares feelings of friendship, support, and understanding between people.”
“I Just Want to Play Ball”:
In 1995, Freddie Frazier’s father was arrested for second-degree murder. He was raised solely by his mother. However, Freddie’s father, Freddie Frazier Sr., was still able to impact his life from prison.
Freddie discusses his father with immense grace and without any hesitation. Most would avoid the topic, but like any obstacle, he tackles it head on. He speaks of the positive memories, including phone calls and letters he would receive from Freddie Sr. “He wasn’t there physically, but he would call every other day.”
He recalls a time when he was ridiculed as a child for the crimes committed by his father, but as always with Freddie, he decided to take a positive angle and reflect on a specific instance in which his father was able to impact his life from behind bars.
One program initiated by Miami’s correctional department allowed inmates to send gifts to their children as a reward for good behavior around the holidays. Freddie Frazier Sr. sent his son a football. “I never let anybody else play with that ball,” Freddie warmly recalls about the gift from his father. However, he played with the ball himself, closely watching whenever it fell into the hands of a friend. This gift from his father joined that tape of Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas as the forces that drove Freddie Frazier to the game that he loves.
Freddie also, in his constant nonchalance, explains that his brother actually lost the ball while playing with it. He chuckles, moving on seamlessly from a story that many would still hold some resentment over.
And here we are now.
Freddie Frazier’s athletic ability is not in question. He would have wowed scouts at the NFL Combine, and he could have impressed had he been given a fair shot to be seen by the league’s decision-makers.
Unfortunately, the draft evaluation process was another roadblock for Frazier.
After his training at Titus Performance Center, Frazier was invited to participate in Florida A&M’s Pro Day. Unfortunately, the event was not orchestrated with the same level of precision that other schools use in their planning.
Frazier still takes the high road in our conversation about the day.
“I appreciate the opportunity they gave me, I just wish it had been organized better,” describing a situation in which they did not even spell his name correctly, provide his tape, or list his contact information for scouts.
Compared to what he had already been through, this setback was minor.
Freddie Frazier was left with two options. He could fold, attempting to pursue other opportunities instead of going after a professional football career, or he could continue to fight.
After everything that Freddie had been through, his decision should not surprise anyone. Freddie Frazier’s dream is to play in the NFL. He is willing to play in the CFL and do “whatever it takes” to latch on to a roster. He is nowhere close to letting his dream wither away.
While any team would satisfy Frazier, there is a very special connection he shares with his hometown’s franchise: the Miami Dolphins.
“I grew up a die-hard Dolphins fan,” recalling stories of Jay Fiedler’s time under center and countless Jay Feely place kicks. Freddie discusses his love of the team at length, alluding to moments only a true fan would remember.
When asked about what it would mean for him to get a call from that team, his voice brightens. “My mother was a die-hard Dolphins fan,” as he clearly fights back the emotions evoked by the connection he holds between Lenora and the team she led him to love.
Freddie then surprises me with a piece of information I was unaware of heading into our interview. Two months ago, he drove to the team’s facility and dropped off his tape. He walked through the glass doors in Davie, standing under the parallel staircases lined with the team’s division championship banners, trophy cases, and exhibits reviving images of the team’s past.
Freddie’s passion for the team shines once again when he discusses how it felt to enter the team’s headquarters on SW 30th street. “It made me feel like I was home. I didn’t want to leave.”
It is easy to draw a parallel between Frazier, an older player who is simply looking for a chance, and Dolphins great Cameron Wake. Wake also entered the NFL at an older age (after playing in the CFL) and serves as inspiration for Freddie Frazier.
“He and Kurt Warner. That’s what keeps me going.” Frazier says those two serve as inspiration for him; both are examples of undrafted players achieving their goals at an older age.
He doesn’t just express that he thinks he can do it. “I know I can do this,” Frazier states emphatically.
Every word breathes purpose. Every word breathes drive. Freddie speaks to me as if I were an NFL decision maker considering him as a roster addition after a tryout. The strength and conviction with which he speaks would impress anyone.
Despite his clear sincerity, Freddie’s strength and conviction should not be drawn from his words. They should be drawn from his actions. He had the power to give up football to help his ailing mother. He had the power to work his way back, calling colleges and presenting his case. He had the power to drive to the Dolphins’ facility and hand them his tape in hopes that it would reach the upper echelons of the building.
I asked Freddie from where he draws his immense strength. How does he have the power to keep going on when faced with so much personal turmoil? He cuts me off before I can finish the final word of my question and provides an answer that many athletes would. However, it seems to carry a particular weight when uttered by Freddie.
I have been speaking with Freddie Frazier for over an hour. Our conversation has spanned life, football, family, inspiration, and what allows him to continue to fight after all that he has been faced with throughout his 25 years.
He is immensely open and accommodating to any questions. He provides answers with insight and depth, not hesitating in the slightest when asked to discuss his mother’s passing, his father’s absence, or his own struggles with making his way back onto a football field. He fields these questions in the same way that he responds to the roadblocks that have been placed in his path: with evenness and grace.
Once I finished telling the story of Freddie’s life, I started to wonder how I could conclude the saga that he has relayed to me. I listen back to our interview three or four times. I call friends, family, and colleagues, all in search of the perfect way to cap this story, which deserves far more than I could ever offer from my computer.
Then, Freddie Frazier sends me a text message. It includes a screenshot of a conversation he had with his younger brother. During our interview, Freddie had taken particular care to indicate that his brother was not fully aware of what was happening to his mother when she was sick. “She didn’t want him to have to deal with the distractions I faced,” alluding to the time his father spent in prison.
Freddie discussed this text with me briefly in our interview, but reading Peter’s message to his brother has an entirely different impact than mere summary.
These are the moments that fuel Freddie Frazier. Doubt rarely creeps into his mind, but if it were to do so, this is what keeps him going.
Freddie’s hard work has not stopped. It will not stop until he achieves his dream. “All I want is a chance to play ball. It’s all I want.” It seems unfair to punish Freddie for what has happened to him. However, no individual has punished him. The system has.
It goes without saying that it is incredibly difficult to make it in the NFL. Frazier is one of thousands who share this dream. How does he set himself apart from others?
“Work. I’ll do whatever it takes.” Often, athletes overuse this phrase. However, there is not one iota of doubt in me when Frazier says this towards the end of our interview that he will, quite literally, do whatever it takes. He does not use his past as an excuse. He stands on his own virtue, facing the hand he has been dealt with his head held high.
His thoughts all come back to football. Each day, he continues to work out for hours on end to make sure that he is prepared when he receives a call inquiring about his services. He is haunted by his dream.
Many people believe the word “haunted” must refer to a negative lingering presence. This is untrue. Freddie Frazier is haunted in the best way possible.
He is not haunted by his past. Why would he be? He has made every decision with the right amount of head and the obvious consideration of his heart. Freddie Frazier is haunted by his future. He wants, more than anything, to be able to turn a dream into a reality, and is willing to do the work that is required to make it happen. He is equipped to handle anything this life could throw at him, and he will continue to show that there is nothing that can derail his pursuit of the ultimate goal.
Why was it so difficult to find the perfect conclusion to the story of Freddie Frazier? Because his story is not over.
As long as Freddie Frazier’s work continues, so will his story. He refuses to quit, not allowing doubt to manifest itself. Freddie addresses his goals in eventualities, not possibilities.
“When I make it onto a team.”
“I will be the best teammate possible.”
“I decided to be great.”
Freddie Frazier wants to play football. He doesn’t care if it’s the NFL, the CFL, Europe, Canada, or Mars. He wants to be part of a team, seeking the reward for all of his hard work.
He wants to put on his pads. He wants to wear the helmet. He especially wants to be able to go through his pregame rituals again, a time he says he feels particularly at ease.
Before taking the field in each of his college games, Freddie had a routine. He would eat a bag of gummy bears, pray in one of the end zones, then return to his locker and listen to DMX’s “We Right Here’.
“…the pain is forever alive inside, makes it hard to sleep
But I keep goin, goin…”
The lyric simultaneously speaks volumes about Freddie and completely misrepresents what he believes in.
It is hard for Freddie to sleep. However, it is not hard to sleep because of pain inside of him. Many would be tortured by what Freddie Frazier has been through. His mother passed away far too young. His father was imprisoned for his youth, causing him ridicule as a child in school. His dream has been dealt blow-after-blow.
Freddie Frazier isn’t haunted by the pain. He is at peace.
Very few would be able to emerge on the other side of what Frazier has been through. However, most would not have been able to make the sacrifices he has. He is at peace with what has happened because he knows that he did the right thing. Had he left his ailing mother to attend Kansas and join the football team, things might be different. However, would he be at peace? The answer is probably no.
Freddie Frazier took the high road. In a way that is universally admirable, he not only knew what was right, but also had the fortitude to follow through with that incredibly difficult decision.
He only struggles to sleep because he knows what must be done. Frazier continues to train as if every day is a tryout. In Freddie’s eyes, there is always a scout behind him counting his reps. There is always a scout in the corner with a stopwatch, timing his 40-yard dash. There is always a scout making sure he drives through on bag drills.
There is no way to conclude Freddie Frazier’s story because it is so far from over. He will continue to claw away at his goals until he reaches them. He won’t stop speaking in eventualities. He won’t stop drawing inspiration from the events in his life that would have broken the will of most individuals.
I listen to his interview for a fifth time, now playing the recording through to the very last second. As the call was ended, Freddie offered up one last insight. I end our conversation by assuring him that the story will be great when it is finished. The recorder captured his response, which I did not initially hear as I pulled the phone away from my ear.
This is not the end of Freddie Frazier’s story.
“It’s only the beginning.”