PROVO -- When Byron Frisch chose to attend BYU back in 1995, he believed he would be playing football in his hometown of San Diego on a fairly regular basis.
"I had every intention of going home every year for the Holiday Bowl," he said this week.Instead, due to conference and bowl alignment changes, it took four years and 48 games, but the senior defensive end will finally receive his first, and only, opportunity to play as a Cougar at Qualcomm Stadium when BYU takes on San Diego State Saturday night.
"It's about time," said the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder.
His mom has taken advantage of the Cougars' first game in San Diego since 1993 by securing 71 tickets for family and friends. And Frisch, who was an All-WAC second team selection the past two seasons, hopes to make the most of the moment.
Growing up in Bonita, Calif., outside of San Diego, Frisch attended Holiday Bowls, Chargers and Padres games at Qualcomm Stadium. Now, finally, it's his turn to play there.
"I'm excited," he said. "This will be one of the biggest games of the year for me."
At Bonita Vista High, Frisch earned team MVP, all-league and All-CIF honors. His play attracted recruiters from BYU, UCLA, Texas, Arizona State and San Diego State. Carl Parrick, his high school coach and Aztec alum, tried to convince Frisch to go to UCLA. He thought it would be a mistake for Frisch to go to BYU.
"I can't understand why he turned down all those other offers," Parrick told a reporter shortly after Frisch had signed with the Cougars, concluding that Frisch selected BYU because he is LDS.
Another one of Parrick's players that year, Nate Foreman, also came to BYU. Parrick didn't think Foreman, who is not LDS, would fit in with Provo's peculiar lifestyle. Foreman was a linebacker-turned-tight end at BYU and lasted a couple of seasons, until he was dismissed from school for Honor Code violations. Now, Foreman plays at Northern Arizona, a teammate of another former Cougar, Ronney Jenkins. Foreman and Jenkins will experience a homecoming of sorts in Utah this weekend when the Lumberjacks visit Weber State.
In hindsight, Parrick was correct about Foreman, but not about Frisch.
"He didn't think BYU was for me," Frisch said. "Obviously, he was wrong."
Frisch has certainly been right for BYU. For four years, he has been a fixture on the Cougars' defensive front. He's thrown the fear of sod into opposing quarterbacks and ball-carriers. He has racked up 21 sacks, 46 quarterback hurries and 37 tackles-for-loss in his career in Provo.
Though his defensive statistics in 1999 are comparable to his three previous seasons, other members of BYU's talented line have been garnering much of the media attention. There are reasons for that. First, teams don't run at Frisch. Second, he has been double-teamed on occasion this season.
As a result, Chris Hoke, Setema Gali, Hans Olsen, Ryan Denney and Chris Watkins have been able to make big plays. While BYU will be sorry to see Frisch go at the end of the season, the good news for coaches is he is the only senior in the group.
The Cougars have had several top-notch defensive linemen over the years, guys like Jason Buck and Travis Hall, who went on to the National Football League. Frisch belongs in that class, said defensive line coach Tom Ramage. "It's hard to compare him with linemen in the past," said Ramage, who has been at BYU 27 years. "Byron is one of the real good linemen we've had here. He'd have to be high on the list."
Frisch's value to BYU extends beyond his physical abilities. Like linebacker Rob Morris, Frisch has been elected team captain two years in a row and he makes those around him better.
"He's not a yeller or a rah-rah type," Ramage said. "He leads by example. It's the way he works in practice and in the weight room. He has a lot of influence on this team."
As good as Frisch's career at BYU has been, it started rather inauspiciously. After redshirting as a true freshman, he impressed coaches in spring drills. On the first series of the annual spring game, Frisch suffered a fractured dislocation of his left ankle. That night, he underwent surgery during which doctors inserted a plate, screws and a pin in his ankle. Later that month, Frisch discarded his walking cast for a short time while he married his wife, Kimberly.
During the summer, Frisch worked hard to return to playing shape and the 1996 season turned out to be one extended highlight. "We had that awesome win against Wyoming (in the WAC Championship game) and we played in the Cotton Bowl," he remembered. "We had some incredibly fun moments."
Frisch experienced another thrill in 1998, when he scored BYU's first touchdown of the season on a 39-yard fumble return at Alabama.
Of course, facing San Diego State this weekend will probably be unforgettable for him, too. But he hopes this is not his last chance to play at Qualcomm Stadium.
"I'd love to play in the NFL," said Frisch, who is the father of two children. "It's my dream. I'd love to play for the Chargers. I love San Diego. I miss it."
If he is drafted in the NFL and it isn't by the Chargers, let's hope for his sake he lands with a team in the AFC West. That way, at least, he would be assured of making one trip to his hometown every year.