BY RYAN BLACK | firstname.lastname@example.org
AUBURN, Ala. — Kiehl Frazier isn’t sure when it happened, exactly.
The precise date and time, in this case, isn’t important. It’s the thought that counts. And at some point before Auburn’s fall camp began — maybe two weeks prior, Frazier believed, give or take — it started to cross his mind he might not be cut out to be a quarterback. Yes, the same player who started the first five games at quarterback last season for the Tigers and returned as the team’s leader in passing yardage (753) no longer considered himself fit for the position.
He trudged on nonetheless, competing with the other three signal-callers — Nick Marshall, Jeremy Johnson and Jonathan Wallace — fighting to win the starting job. But when Frazier met with head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee on Sunday to discuss how the reps would be split at quarterback for the coming week, the junior knew it was the right time.
“We kind of came to a mutual decision that it would be best for me and best for the team to for me to move to safety,” he said after the announcement first surfaced on Monday. “That’s something that I’m really going to embrace, and going to try to have fun with and try to help the team out.”
Frazier didn’t break the news himself; that was Malzahn, who was the first to meet with reporters following Monday’s practice. He said the move was an idea Frazier came up with on his own
The coaching staff played no part, aside from ceding to his wishes to shift to safety.
“I go way back with Kiehl relationship-wise and have a lot of respect for him,” Malzahn said. “He wants to do whatever is best for our team and we need help back there.”
Frazier was the first to note how confounding it appears to those on the outside. Take a quick look at his resume coming out of high school in Springdale, Ark., stuffed to the brim with quarterbacking feats. The accomplishment that stands above the rest reads, “USA Today’s National Offensive Player of the Year,” which Frazier captured in 2010.
Three years later, he’s a safety.
How does that happen?
Cliche as it sounds, Frazier said his heart wasn’t in it anymore.
“It was just something that I’ve been contemplating and thinking about,” he said. “I think I did well enough to put myself in a position to be the quarterback, but that’s something I felt like you have to be all in, 100 percent.”
Anything less than full commitment, Frazier said, would be unfair to his teammates. That’s why he’s focused on working his way into the rotation at safety, which he played in high school.
“Some schools even wanted me to play safety in college — a lot of West Coast schools and Northeast schools,” he said. “So it’s something that I’m familiar with, not that I’ve played it a lot. There’s going to be a transition period, but something I feel that I can do very well at.”
He’s already found a mentor in Kodi Burns. The former Tiger went through a similar position change himself four years ago, moving to wide receiver after Chris Todd was named the starting quarterback. And Burns flourished in his new role, contributing to Auburn’s national-title winning squad in 2010.
What was the best advice Burns imparted upon him?
“Just make the best out of any situation. Do what you want to do,’” Frazier said. “Football isn’t forever — what I’m doing right now is what I’m getting my education in. It’s something I feel like I can do well in. Whatever I do, do it to the fullest.
Aside from picking up the defense’s schemes and calls, a few other alterations had to be made. He changed his equipment, and decided to add a visor to his helmet “to try to look cool out there.” Jersey No. 10 went out the door as well. Since linebacker LaDarius Owens already had the number, Frazier changed to No. 25.
Following his first practice at safety Monday, Frazier was pleased with his performance.
“That was my first time hitting in practice and being physical and being live for real,” he said. “So I thought it went really well.”
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has already talked with him, Frazier said, happy to welcome an addition at safety, one of the thinnest units on the team.
Johnson’s counterpart, Lashlee, still couldn’t get over Frazier’s altruism when he met with media members after Tuesday morning’s situational scrimmage.
“I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more proud of a young person I’ve coached than I am of Kiehl right now,” he said. “Because you know, when you look at the quarterback position, I tell those guys all the time it’s unfair, but it’s reality. When you win, you get way too much credit, and when you lose, you get way too much blame. He went through some stuff that not a lot of people go through, and I couldn’t be more proud.”
The adversity Lashlee was alluding to shouldn’t be difficult to discern. He was referring, of course, to the struggles Frazier and the Tigers went through in 2012, when they limped home to a 3-9 record. Throwing his old coaching staff under the bus or regretting last season? Not Frazier’s style. He admitted he felt comfortable in then-offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler’s scheme at the outset of last year — it was something he had been training for his whole life, after all, back when he was still set on being a quarterback. But as the season started to unravel, his confidence and comfort level began to wane.
Now 2012 is nothing more than a teaching tool for Frazier and the rest of his teammates who returned this fall.
“I didn’t play well last year and that’s something that’s kind of set in stone,” he said. “I can’t go back and change it. … Everything that happened last year, I wouldn’t take it back because that’s something that the team learned from.”
Despite the hard times last season brought, Frazier said he never thought about quitting. It’s the same mind-set that helped him reach his decision to switch to defense.
That’s why Frazier didn’t contemplate transferring, either.
He loves Auburn — everything about it — too much to leave.
“Whenever I committed to Auburn, I committed for four years, maybe five — however long I stay here,” Frazier said. “I love the city of Auburn. I love the college. And no matter what we went through last year, it was a learning experience. But my love for Auburn never left.”