Magic In The Misery
By Anthony Casson
"Get off my hair!"
Head coach Mike Riley said he had never heard anything like it in his three decades of coaching football, but senior defensive tackle Kevin Frahm yelled it during practice - no hesitation.
He isn't difficult to miss. Frahm has long hair - the reason for the outburst - that dangles in curls when he's sweaty, which he often is. Yet his facial hair is always trimmed and tidy.
Instead of walking, he struts. Instead of smiling, he stares. Arguably the strongest man on the team, he backs down to no one. He doesn't have to move people out of the path, because they move themselves.
And if his appearance isn't unique enough, his on-field personality should reap complete assertion that he is Oregon State's most interesting man in athletics. Frahm is unabashed about his feelings during practice and a game. If a teammate botches a play, the veteran is there to yell about it.
Sometimes he's in the mood to play mind games, so he talks. He talks a lot. But he's the last person anyone wants to challenge. In preparation, it matters not that the opponent is friend or foe; all that matters is the win. Small or large victories, any will suffice.
But he isn't all rampage. Frahm's rich with character. He's a teacher and a student, of football and of life.
"He is one of those guys that has a diversity of interests," Riley said. "I've got a collection of books, and I kind of consider it the library for him because he likes to read novels like I do. He'll come check one out from time to time. I just love that. We can talk about anything. But he combines that with a passion for the game that's almost unequaled.
"He is really a great leader because of that. He's a great player because of that. I think he's infectious."
Now, facing his final season as a Beaver football player, a title to which he admits gripping with intense pride, Frahm is the leader - technically, vocally and emotionally. Everything he has wanted since he arrived in 2007 is here, and it's a strange situation for him.
"Oh yeah. Especially because of being on so many defenses before and being around those older guys, and then suddenly feeling like you're the guy trying to roll out in the locker room being the grandfather," he said. "Seeing people come and go, I think that's the biggest thing that kind of lets you know that the clock is ticking."
College has been painful, but in a surprisingly pleasant way.
Instead of studying athletic training, he had to choose political science to better match his football devotion.
He was demoted from first-team defensive end to backup his redshirt sophomore year, and then coaches asked him to move to tackle. It was a long process.
People took turns abusing him in online forums, he said, during his rough period at defensive end. His mom called him about people outside the program who were criticizing him. Frahm didn't like it.
"That was one of those times when you look in the mirror and you're like, 'Oh. This isn't good,'" he said. "It's also one of those times where, while everyone around you is questioning things that are going on, you're questioning things the most.
"On a personal level, that was probably one of the most difficult things that I've had to deal with - one of the biggest growing-up processes."
Despite extra effort and time trying to regain his starting job, Frahm remained a backup. It was an uncomfortable period.
"That was the only season that I can remember being on the field, looking up at the stands and being like, 'Man. A lot of people up there probably don't like me.' You feel very alone," he said.
During last season's home game against Louisville, Frahm decided to put football before religion. His Jewish faith is a large part of his life, but he chose to help his teammates beat Louisville on a day that coincided with Yom Kippur - the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
People who weren't Beaver fans, he said, called his parents to say he shouldn't play. Instead, he should have been fasting. The criticism didn't stick.
Frahm respects the value physical and emotional pain has in a person's life. He believes in it as a development mechanism.
Ask about his brand mark - actual burns - and he might reveal the one on his right shoulder: "SPQR," the mark of the Roman legions. The others are concealed: A Spartan shield symbol on the front of each thigh and Celtic runes on the back. He has branded himself since freshman year.
He and his closest friends in hometown Portland do it for a reason. And he would like everyone to know they are of sound mind when they do it.
"I think that people in our society don't really know how good they've got it," he said. "Kind of like working out. People don't like to go to the gym, go condition because it's painful. It's difficult. But I think there's magic in the misery.
"People always find out a whole bunch about themselves and about life by doing difficult things."
When Frahm made the transition from end to tackle, he experienced emotional pain. It didn't last long - more than the 10 seconds required to brand him with hot iron, but not too long. Great friend and teammate Brennan Olander, and former star Stephen Paea were his tackle mentors in 2010.
"I feel like my downfall as a player and in life, one of my weaknesses is overthinking," Frahm said. "The best players know how to go out and just play ruthlessly. I owe so much to (Olander) and Stephen."
He and the position finally clicked, and the moment came during the first game of the 2010 season, in Arlington, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium, against TCU.
"When we played TCU, and I actually went out there, did well, and me, (Olander and Paea) rotated at the top, that was so big for me," Frahm said.
"I've always had this voice in my head that keeps me driven but is also like, 'You're not doing this good enough. You could've done this better. You could've done that better.' You know? That's what kind of put that voice to bed.
"It's like, okay, I might not have done everything 100-percent right, but I can do this."
The season was considered a bust for the Beavers but a successful one for Frahm's personal stats, especially as a backup - although, he probably wouldn't admit success because of the team's overall record. He finished with 33 tackles, 24 of which came in the final five games, and had 4.5 sacks.
This year, he wants more. More than anything, he wants to start in a bowl game.
"And I want to go somewhere sunny," he said with a smile. "Somewhere sunny and some place that gets the school a whole lot of money."