Holding a starting position as a true freshman comes with its challenges. It can be intimidating for a first-year player to face that type of competition in the Big 12 Conference right out of the gate, especially when playing a new position.
Well, unless you are Zach Frazier.
“I don’t know. It’s always been my dream, so…I just love the moment,” Frazier said, reflecting on his first season of college football. “Once it was over, just looking back on what happened over the course of the season, that’s when I was really proud of what I was able to do.”
Frazier, named a True Freshman All-American by ESPN, has been cool under pressure long before his arrival in Morgantown. In his first-ever showing as a Mountaineer, the Fairmont native started at center. For the final nine games of the 2020 season, he remained in the first group out, but at left guard. This could have been yet another challenge for the newcomer. Instead, it was just another opportunity for growth.
“Switching to left guard in the middle of the season taught me to be versatile. In fall camp, I learned center and not much of guard, so switching there kept me on my feet,” Frazier said.
This spring, the majority of his reps have come at center while still getting in some left guard work. While he’s back to his natural position, he’s still adjusting to his newfound communication responsibilities.
“When you play center, you have to pretty much command the whole line,” Frazier said. “I’ve grown a lot as a leader because I’m playing center now and I have to make the calls for the line and use my voice. Before, I hadn’t had to do that. That’s something I’ve had to work on.”
And that work isn’t going unnoticed.
“He’s starting to step up and be a leader,” said running back Leddie Brown. “He’s getting more comfortable making the calls and reading the defense.”
Improving communication has been a main goal this spring for the guys up front, and their position coach Matt Moore says it’s getting better each week under Frazier’s leadership.
“Our defense is not the easiest to prepare for as most offensive guys in this conference will tell you, so communication is huge. It’s gotten a lot better and it all starts with Zach Frazier,” Moore said. “He does a really good job from a communication standpoint.”
Going against a squad that finished the year ranked No. 4 in total defense is also something Frazier has used to his advantage. Last season, it was anchored by NFL Draft hopeful Darius Stills. This spring, it has been returners Dante Stills, Akheem Mesidor, and Taijh Alston across from Frazier in the opposite colored jerseys.
“You got two freshman All-Americans and they are going against each other every day because Mesidor’s been playing a lot of nose, a lot of inside stuff. One figures out a way to beat the other, then that one has to go back and work on how to fix that,” Moore said.
If there’s one thing Mountaineer defenders can say about Frazier, it’s that he doesn’t quite play like an underclassman.
“Zach is just a strong guy. He’s a man. He’s one of the strongest guys on the team,” Stills said.
So, all that competition between players that are some of the top in league, surely there has to be a little friendly banter in practice, right?
“I don’t start stuff, but if I’m provoked, I’ll finish it,” Frazier laughed. “I don’t talk trash on the field. Maybe just me and Taijh a little bit. All joking stuff.”
Okay, so it’s no surprise it’s all business with Frazier, but he does have the talent to back up that talk if he chooses.
He says the game has slowed down for him since first taking the field against Eastern Kentucky — he understands the offense a lot more and knows what is expected. While it seems he is flourishing in his role with ease, is it really that easy for an underclassman to take on everything that comes with being the starting center? Coach Moore says typically no, but as he’s learned, Frazier is anything but typical.
“He is a football guru, he loves it. He likes to dissect plays. He and his dad — his dad played at Fairmont State, he loves football, too — that’s kind of their deal together. They don’t go golfing. They don’t go fishing. They sit around and watch old WVU games and talk about the three-technique and who they need to double team,” Moore said. “He’s a little different because he’s way ahead of where most young guys are. He understands the game, so that makes it much easier on my side as far as teaching it to him.”
Head coach Neal Brown has expressed his excitement on Frazier’s progress this spring, calling him the “quarterback upfront without question.” There’s no denying the coaching staff, and his teammates, have high expectations for the West Virginia native’s sophomore campaign, but Frazier’s are even higher.
“I’ve continued to work on my craft and really trying to perfect my technique. I’m always working on it. It’s never good enough,” he said.