Nate Frazier played in three games for Navy last season, seeing mop-up duty in blowouts against Stanford, Duke and Eastern Michigan.
Despite the lack of meaningful game experience, the sophomore nose guard from Atlanta has "earned" quite a bit of hype this offseason. One preseason magazine even penned the phrase "potential NFL prospect" when describing him.
"The kid's never played a down," coach Paul Johnson said. "I hope he's going to be a good player. We need him to be a good player, but I wouldn't anoint him as Deacon Jones just yet."
There is a reason for the buzz. At 6-foot-3 and 285 pounds, Frazier is a physical specimen rarely found inside the guarded gates of the academy. The Mids are normally forced to deploy undersized defensive linemen, but from a pure size standpoint, Frazier will be at less of a disadvantage.
Toss in his ability to move well for someone that big and a solid base of football smarts, and Frazier has been listed atop the depth chart at nose guard since the spring. Barring injury he likely will be there when the Mids open the season Aug. 31 at Temple.
"He's getting better. He as a long way to go before Temple," defensive line coach Dale Pehrson said. "That's a giant word — potential. He's got a ton of potential, now he's just got to perform, which will ultimately decide if he's a good player. There's lots of big guys out there who have a lot of potential."
Frazier's path to the top of the Navy depth chart was far different than most of his teammates. After graduating from Riverwood High School in Atlanta, he spent a year at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, R.I.
He did not fulfill all of the requirements at NAPS and failed to gain entry to the academy. That is where the journey ends for most Navy recruits, but Frazier remained determined to make it to Annapolis. He spent a year at Wyoming Seminary, a prep school in northeastern Pennsylvania, before being admitted last fall.
"You always go through those moments [of doubt]," Frazier said. "At the same time, when a new day comes you've got to keep pushing through. I focused on my parents and [the Navy coaches] calling. They said 'Just keep pushing and you'll see the light at the end of the tunnel.' "
Added Pehrson: "We kept in touch with him, but Nate wanted to be here. This is the experience Nate wanted and the opportunities after [school], and there was no denying him."
While at Wyoming Seminary, Frazier tried out a new sport to keep in shape — lacrosse. He had never played before, and opposing players probably weren't real happy to see a stick-toting Frazier rumbling after them.
"It was pretty fun. It helped keep me in shape," said Frazier, who played defensive midfield. "I did faceoffs and just played defense and I could hit people."
One of the biggest reasons Frazier could be ready to fulfill his promise this season is the man he lined up across from each day during spring practice. Senior center Antron Harper is the team's best offensive lineman, and the two of them have produced some quality head-to-head battles.
Harper is one of the strongest players on the team, and the combination of his 5-foot-11, 272-pound frame and low center of gravity has been a key development aide for Frazier, helping him focus on keeping his pads low.
"If we didn't have Antron, [Frazier] wouldn't be where he is right now, or at least at the progression he's at," Pehrson said. "Antron's helped him a lot and they're pretty good friends, so he can tell him 'Hey, you were high that time.' He usually finds that out quick when he's on his back, but Antron has done a ton to help him."