Johnny Frasier's rise from obscurity began in 2012 when, in only his second year playing football, he rushed for 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns. (Scout.com)
There are few secrets on the recruiting trail these days, and when there are they don’t last long. Six weeks ago, few outside of the Tar Heel State knew who Princeton, N.C., junior running back Johnny Frasier was. Now he is regarded as one of the hottest tailback prospects in the country.
Frasier’s rise from obscurity began in 2012 when, in only his second year playing football, he rushed for 1,800 yards and 22 touchdowns. The light buzz stemming from that initial success picked up the following summer when he finished second in the 100 meters in the state championship meet with a time of 10.7 seconds. That brought more eyes and expectations his way, but the talented youngster was unfazed. He went on to prove his explosive debut was anything but a fluke.
“We came up short in the end but we had a great year,” said Frasier, reflecting upon his junior campaign. “We finished in 9-4. We lost to the state champion in the second round. I finished with 3,045 yards rushing and 25 rushing touchdowns. I had 555 yards receiving with five more touchdowns. I (also) had seven all-purpose touchdowns.”
At 6-foot, 200 pounds Frasier is a threat to go the distance every time he touches the ball. An even scarier proposition is his coach’s contention that Scout.com’s No. 26 running back is only going to get better.
“Johnny has got open-field speed,” Princeton coach Derek Minor said. “He just runs away from people, and because he has gotten stronger in the weight room he is breaking arm tackles now, too. You can watch guys on film and they take bad angles on him on purpose because he’s a big kid. He will also shake you. He’ll give you a stiff arm. He’ll spin move. He has got probably one of the best spin moves and it is not even something someone has taught him. He just does it.
“He’s got good hands. They try to key in on him in the run, and we throw him a screen pass. We can swing him out as a receiver and he can catch the ball out there. He is learning to run with power. I think he needs to develop that a little bit more with his pad level. He’s got great vision and it’s improving. I think this past year the speed of the game slowed down. His vision is still growing and he is still developing, but it is one of those things where he has just naturally got it. He’ll see a cutback lane and then he’ll put his foot in the ground and be gone.”
With so much big-play potential, it’s a wonder how Frasier stayed below the radar as long as he did. However, a closer look at his season tells the tale.
“There are only three games (during which) I played a whole game this season,” said Frasier. “Most of the time I just play half a game. I think it is because we are a smaller school and I am not the type of person that is going to rag and boast about myself because I don’t think there is (a reason) for it. I would rather give my team credit because it takes eleven people on the field to do it, not just one. I am not really down for the fame and everything. I just love playing football. I just want to go to college and get my education.”
That attitude has endeared him to college coaches even more. On the heels of in-state schools North Carolina, North Carolina State, Duke, and Wake Forest extending scholarships, out-of-state programs like Penn State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Florida State, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Michigan have followed suit.
Wolverines on the radar
Frasier is taking the sudden attention in stride and is making a concerted effort to avoid narrowing his focus prematurely. That said, he has started to look into a few of his suitors a little harder. Michigan is one of those few.
“(Michigan assistant) Roy Manning said not only is (Frasier) a good football player, but he is a good character kid,” said Minor. “They try to strive and get really good kids in that program who are going to be passionate about Michigan and the tradition that they have. As far as Johnny’s take on Michigan, I think he was pretty excited about it when they heard about Michigan. He even mentioned, ‘I see them on TV all the time.’ Even though he hasn’t been around football but three years, he could immediately identify with Michigan and what they do. He talked about how passionate their fans are, how packed the stadium is on TV, and stuff like that. It’s already made an impression on him.”
Frasier said, “I like their style of play, especially (after) the offensive coordinator was telling me how they want to get back to ground and pound. They want to run the ball a lot more. So I really think they will be a good fit.”
He may be new to the football recruiting scene, but the significance of Doug Nussmeier’s arrival in Ann Arbor wasn’t lost on Frasier.
“I knew (Nussmeier) a little before time,” said Frasier. “He was at Alabama. I think he is a great offensive coordinator. I was like, ‘Wow, look! Imagine what Michigan can do with him.”
At the moment Frasier has that same level of excitement about the prospects of playing in a number of the other offenses as well. Football, though, will only be part of his decision-making equation.
“I think he is understanding that he is essentially getting his education paid for,” said Minor. “It is a chance to break out of the cycle that he’s in or that he is living in. So first and foremost he tells everybody his education is the most important thing. He is wanting to get into engineering. With him not having ties to any particular school he told me personally, ‘Coach, I’ll go anywhere from Florida State, to Oregon, to anywhere in between.’ He is going to go where it is the best fit for him program-wise, but then also his education.”
“Where can I get the best education and feel for the coaches?” Frasier said elaborating on his criteria. “I’m going to have to spend four years under them, so I want to be comfortable around them. My parents want me to stay close, but I really want to go see the world (and) see new places. I have been in Johnston County, North Carolina and Florida all my life.”
Seeing as many of those new places as possible is among Frasier’s top spring and summer priorities. His limited knowledge of his suitors will receive its greatest influence from campus visits. If he can narrow his list to a manageable number in the coming months, he and his coach will hit the road in earnest to check each of them out. From there a decision may be just around the corner.
“You know, that’s funny, because we have talked about that,” said Minor. “I think he is getting a lot of attention and opinions from people. I even told him personally, ‘You know there is one way that you can end all that pressure. You can go and we can take a look at the schools this spring. If you want to go to some camps or visit in the summer and then you can decide before your senior season even starts so you can sit back and enjoy your senior year without having the pressure. So he has thought about doing that.
“In a perfect world, I’d rather commit before my senior year of football so that I don’t have worry about it, so I can focus on my senior year of football, but that is in a perfect world.”
Sam Webb is managing editor of GoBlueWolverine.com and co-host of the "Michigan Insider" morning show weekdays on Sports Talk 1050 WTKA. His Michigan recruiting column appears weekly at detroitnews.com. For more on U-M recruiting, visit michigan.scout.com.