Frier: A Giant Man Who Cares For Others -- This Was To Be The Best Year Of Mike Frier's Life. He Was Where He Wanted To Be - Back In Seattle, Close To His Daughter, Playing Pro Football. But In An Instant, His Life Changed Forever.
As much as any year in his life, this was to be one of the best. The year Mike Frier turned 25, and returned to Seattle to be a professional football player.
"He's just a kid, just a baby," his friend and agent Dick Bell said by phone from North Carolina. "I know he's 300 pounds, but he's just a baby. Things aren't right. I can't believe it. I don't know if I can do this . . ."
Bell had been beyond consolation all day, able to speak only a few sentences before surrendering to tears.
Thousands of miles away, Frier was on an operating table with a broken neck and a spinal cord that barely worked. Doctors said he would never play football again, probably never walk again.
They pried the giant man from the back seat of a crumpled car Thursday night. Frier's life was forever changed.
He intended that when he came to Seattle. Just not this way.
He grew up in Jacksonville, N.C. He was not precocious in any way, not even as a football player. But he was always big and always patient. It seemed he waited forever for the day he could return to Seattle.
The Seattle Seahawks acquired him Nov. 2 when defensive lineman Tyrone Rodgers was put on the injured list. Frier had yet to register a tackle in two games against Denver and Kansas City, but played well enough to get the attention of coaches and teammates.
"I took him under my wing when he got here," defensive lineman Cortez Kennedy said. "I felt Mike was going to be a great player. I was looking forward to him playing beside me. He was really upbeat. We thought we'd use him a lot this week. What's happened . . . I just can't imagine it."
Said team captain Eugene Robinson: "He was wreaking havoc on the field. He had three guys on him. To see him now, it just shows you how life is really fragile."
Frier has few close friends and little family he has spoken of. His stepmother, the woman who raised him, died when he was in college. Police were still trying to notify his father yesterday, but he was traveling and could not be reached.
Frier frequently returned to his high school in Jacksonville to talk with players and coaches. In high school he worked as a disc jockey, often lugging his set of records to Thompson Elementary School, where he would help put on dances for grade-school students. Once in a while, Frier would dance for the kids.
"He was very good at that," said Marion Wigfall, Frier's former position coach at Jacksonville High School. "He was a very caring person. He loved small kids."
Frier and his girlfriend have a young daughter. They met in 1992 when Frier was drafted in the seventh round by the Seahawks. He was waived before the season began, and picked up by the Cincinnati Bengals.
He started three games that season for the Bengals, six the next. He played one game this season before an unexcused absence from practice resulted in a four-game suspension without pay. He was released one game before the suspension ended.
"He hated it in Cincinnati," his agent said. "He kept telling me, `get me to Seattle, get me to Seattle.' "
In Cincinnati, Frier was perceived as having a bad attitude. He missed almost all of training camp because of a contract dispute. Coaches grumbled about his weight. He offered no excuses for missing practices. He was clearly unhappy with the Bengals, who released him Oct. 12.
The Seahawks offered him a contract, a chance to be with his daughter and girlfriend, whom he wanted to marry. Kennedy said Frier seemed "very happy" to be back.
"Everything was coming together," Bell said. "He had already gone through so much, and finally he was like a flower ready to show its petals."
He played three seasons for Appalachian State College in North Carolina, before becoming academically ineligible his senior year. Though he had improved his grades his junior year, his grade-point average was lowered by grades his freshman and sophomore years.
"Mike's circumstances were tough," said Appalachian Coach Jerry Moore, who led his team in a prayer yesterday morning for Frier. "I can remember seeing his dad behind that chain-link fence, the look of devastation on his face. He had no background of academics. He didn't know what was happening. Mike was making his best grades ever so it was hard for a father to understand why his son wasn't playing."
Frier missed the entire season, but stayed in shape. He was motivated by the NFL scouts who kept coming by the school to check on him. Moore said Frier is resilient. His actions lately showed that.
Tackle Ray Roberts said Frier sent a message to the team from the hospital, telling teammates he was fine and to go on with the season.
"That shows a lot of character," Roberts said.
Frier's supporters are already being enlisted. Mike Utley, who played football for Seattle's Kennedy High School, Washington State and the Detroit Lions, was left partially paralyzed after suffering a broken neck in a game.
"These few days are the toughest, believe me," Utley said. "Doctors say you can't do this or that. But your opinion is the only one that matters. I'm going to do whatever I can to make sure he understands I believe he is going to walk one day. Regardless of what doctors say."
----------------------------------------------------. Mike Frier / bio.
Height: 6 feet 5.
Weight: 300 pounds.
Position: Defensive line.
College: Appalachian State.
Drafted: Seventh round, 1992, by Seattle.
Pro career: Waived by Seattle before rookie season. Picked up by Cincinnati, where he started nine games over two seasons. Released Oct. 12 and picked up by Seattle.
Personal: Has a daughter. . . . Three-sport letterman Jacksonville (N.C.) High . . Majored in broadcasting.
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