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Blessing in disguise: career-ending injury didn't stop BYU athlete

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 31 2011 12:02 a.m. MDT

Former BYU football and basketball player and one of the first blacks to serve a mission, Danny Frazier broke his neck in a football game. He went on to become a lawyer. His son Jameson plays for BYU now. Danny poses Monday, Aug. 29, 2011 for photos in his office for a profile story.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SOUTH JORAN —The first thing you notice about Danny Frazier is that he fills a room. He is 6-foot-6, 260 pounds, with wide shoulders and a flat stomach. At 52, he looks like he could still line up for BYU's defense, if not the Pittsburgh Steelers. Then there is his booming laugh, which punctuates every other sentence and is so loud that it used to scare his grandchildren until they realized he is a warm, engaging man who tends to draw people in.

"It's hard to miss him because he's so tall and so loud," says his son Jameson. "You can hear him across the room. He's always been loud, warm and loving."

Frazier is an attorney with his own private practice — Frazier Law Firm — specializing in criminal defense. But when he is shopping or out in public, here come the questions that come naturally when you are big and black.

"Where did you play football/basketball?"

"I never get mistaken for a lawyer," he says, laughing again."

He played football and basketball at BYU, and the story ends there, although if circumstances had been different, he might have gone much further.

He seemed destined for gridiron greatness when he took the field at starting outside linebacker for BYU as a sophomore, going up against national powerhouse Texas A&M. A lanky and ripped 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, he was a rare combination of speed, athleticism and size. With his instinct for the ball, could the NFL be far behind? He was such an all-around athlete that he played basketball for BYU in 1977, earning mop-up duty at power forward as a freshman (he and Keith Rice were the first blacks to play basketball for the Cougars).

"Athletically, he had it all," says former BYU head coach LaVell Edwards. "He looked like he had tremendous potential as a football player."

And then it was finished.

He broke his neck against A&M and that was that. He will tell you today that it was a blessing in disguise. The injury launched the rest of his life. He became one of the early black missionaries of the LDS Church after the ban against blacks holding the priesthood was lifted in 1978; he went to law school; he married; he started a law firm; he raised a family.

Jameson, the second child, is co-captain of the 2011 BYU football team. At 6-21/2 , 230 pounds, he plays outside linebacker, like the old man. A senior and former walk-on, he cracked the starting lineup last year, although his season was interrupted by injuries. After following his father's footsteps to BYU and to outside linebacker and on a mission, he plans to attend law school, as well.

"Yeah, I hear it all the time — people ask me, 'Are you Danny Frazier's kid?'" says Jameson. "They remember my dad. They tell me what a great guy he was and that he was a freak athlete who was amazing to watch."

Danny Frazier, one of four children raised by a divorced single mother in Glendale, Ariz., joined the LDS Church in 1974. The Mormon missionaries knocked on the door, Frazier's mother invited them in, and thus began a new life. Danny, 15 at the time, was baptized along with the rest of the family.

"Most of my friends were black," he says. "I had to sneak to seminary. I didn't want our friends to know we were Mormon. I wasn't very forthcoming about that at the time."

Things were simpler on the athletic field. Frazier was recruited by all of the Utah schools, along with Nevada-Las Vegas and Colorado State. Some schools promised to let him play both basketball and football. He chose BYU.

"My mom chose BYU," says Frazier, followed by one of those booming laughs. "She fell in love with LaVell Edwards and (assistant coach) Norm Chow."

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