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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

His mother wasn't troubled by the church's restriction against blacks holding the priesthood, or about sending him to a predominantly white church school. "I've got to give my mom all the credit there," he says. "She said this is right. It wasn't easy, even at BYU. There were a lot of students who let me know where I stood. It was just the attitude of the times and the LDS culture at that point. There had been one way of doing things for a long time."

Frazier was equipped to deal with such challenges. Edwards was not only struck by the kid's athleticism, but by his engaging personality, as well. "He was very friendly and very well-liked," says the legendary coach. "He went out of his way to meet and talk to people. Not in a phony way, but a real genuine way. I remember that smile. He was like Magic Johnson that way. He had success written all over him, not just in athletics, but in anything."

Frazier was everything the Cougars hoped he would be when he stepped onto the field, and he saw playing time as a redshirt freshman in 1977. When he took the field as a starter a year later, he appeared to be headed for stardom. That promise was dashed on a single play.

"They ran a draw play, and I was chasing down the running back," he recalls. "The other linebacker on the strong side, Glen Redd, and I met the ball carrier at the same time. I guess the running back got lower than we did, because Glen and I smashed head-on pretty much. I had dropped my head. I popped vertebrae. I felt it."

He was down on the field for a couple of minutes, but felt no numbness and was able to walk off the field. One of the doctors on the sideline was a neurosurgeon; he quizzed Frazier about his symptoms. Frazier complained about pain between his shoulders and was taken to the hospital, where X-rays revealed fractured vertebrae. He underwent a surgical procedure a few days later in which doctors removed bone from his hip and used it to replace the damaged bone in his neck. He was told he might be able to play football the following season.

Frazier left on a mission at the end of the school year instead, believing he would play football again. When he returned two years later he reported to the team in the spring and began preparing for a return to the game. "They were telling me they could rig up a helmet and do things to help," says Frazier. Then one day Edwards took him aside. "You're done with football," he told him. "You don't want to do this. Get on with your life."

As Frazier recalls, "Who's going to argue with LaVell Edwards?"

He tried to play basketball again at BYU, but there were no spots open on the roster for him. One of the BYU assistant coaches suggested that he play for BYU-Hawaii. "It took all of about two minutes to convince me," he says. After sitting out a redshirt year, he played two seasons for the Seasiders, starting as a senior. A self-described late-bloomer, he continued to grow until he was 25, adding more than an inch and eventually 40 solid pounds to his frame, which certainly would have served him well in football.

After graduating with a degree in accounting in 1986, Frazier was accepted into BYU's law school. He has worked as a criminal defense attorney for 21 years.

"It was the closest thing I could find to sports," he says.

Looking back now, he calls the neck injury "the best thing that ever happened to me. I say that mostly because of the mission. If I hadn't gotten hurt, I wouldn't have served a mission. Here's the deal, man. I played football from junior high all the way until I got hurt, and I was good at it, but I didn't know how to do anything else. All I did was work out. I didn't think I could do anything else. I really believe I'd be in a world of hurt if I hadn't gotten hurt. I got into academics. I learned the importance of education. I moved on with life. I actually enjoyed it more. I had to change my life. Reality sets in sooner or later."

His son Jameson notes that his father didn't discuss regrets about his football career when he discussed his life with his children. "He mainly focused on his mission and how much he loved it," says Jameson. "It was never, 'Oh, man, I wish I hadn't gotten hurt.' It was about his mission and how he came back and did well in school and married my mom. He reminds me all the time that if he hadn't gotten hurt, I probably wouldn't be here. He probably would not have gone on a mission and he would have played in the NFL and never met my mom."

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