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 College Bowl

With No Due Respect

If Scott Frost's unsung career is any guide, Nebraska will go undefeated and still not get ashare of the national title

by Ivan Maisel

 
Posted: Wed December 23, 1997

Scott Frost's college career can be defined by two plays this season: one that happened and one that didn't.

WALK01.JPG (21k) On Nov. 8 Frost, Nebraska's quarterback, threw a touchdown pass that would become many fans' play of the year. As time ran out at Missouri, freshman Matt Davison made a diving catch of a deflected throw by Frost in the Tigers' end zone, allowing the Cornhuskers to tie the game and send it into overtime. Nebraska went on to win 45-38. Davison's reception capped a 67-yard, 62-second, no-timeouts drive that Frost executed with devastating efficiency. The comeback victory helped assure the Huskers of a Jan. 2 date in the Orange Bowl against No. 3 Tennessee. If No. 2 Nebraska wins that game and No. 1 Michigan loses to Washington State in the Rose Bowl, Nebraska will be the national champion for the third time in four years.

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"That drive is the biggest accomplishment of my career," Frost says. Because Missouri nearly beat the Huskers, however, "it's also the game in which we lost the Number 1 ranking," he adds. "The defining moment of my career shouldn't be the same moment that the thing we worked for hardest is taken away."

Then there was the play that didn't happen. By gaining 280 yards in total offense (201 passing and 79 rushing) as the Huskers rolled toward a 54-15 victory over Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 6, Frost finished this season with 2,332 yards—exactly one yard short of the school record set by Jerry Tagge in 1971. One more play could have given Frost the mark. However, he sat for most of the fourth quarter of the blowout. "It's amazing that nobody knew I was that close," he says.

If Frost's career is ever made into a movie, it might resemble Forrest Gump as directed by Tim Burton. Unlike Gump, Frost is not dim-witted—he's an Academic All-America, and he graduated last Saturday with a degree in finance and a 3.45 GPA—but, like Gump, he has the uncanny knack of being at the center of important events. Things happen to him, not all of them cause for celebration. His life has been like a box of dark chocolates.

When Bill Walsh, during his second tour as Stanford's coach, from 1992 to '94, was investigated by the NCAA for possible recruiting violations, one of the recruits in question was Frost. When Cornhuskers I-back Lawrence Phillips broke into an apartment in the middle of the night two years ago and assaulted his former girlfriend, she was staying with Frost in his apartment. When Nebraska fans booed a Husker this season for the first time in just about anyone's memory, they booed Frost. "I expected everything to be easy," Frost says of quarterbacking Nebraska. "It's just been one challenge after another."

WALK04.JPG (21k) Even when the 6'3", 220-pound Frost performed well, things sometimes went awry. This fall, for example, he became the 10th player in Division I-A history to exceed 1,000 yards both passing and rushing in one season. He threw for 1,237 yards and five touchdowns, and he rushed for 1,095 yards (second among quarterbacks to Chris McCoy of Navy) and 19 touchdowns. He led the Huskers to a 12-0 record and the No. 2 ranking. Yet the Big 12 coaches voted him third team all-conference, behind Corby Jones of Missouri and Michael Bishop of Kansas State. "Another slap in his face," says Huskers senior guard-center Matt Hoskinson, one of Frost's closest friends. The vote even got a rise out of Nebraska coach Tom Osborne, who said Frost should be mentioned in the same breath as Cornhuskers greats Tommie Frazier, Turner Gill and Tagge.

Frost has a special feeling for Osborne, which is odd given that as a high school senior in Wood River, Neb., Frost spurned Osborne's offer of a scholarship and chose to play at Stanford. Frost lasted two years in California before he came home; he left the Cardinal because he wasn't happy with what was happening to his football career. Unlike Osborne, Frost allows his emotions to flow to the surface. After delivering the last speech at Osborne's retirement news conference on Dec. 10, he turned and threw a bear hug around his coach.

Frost and Osborne have butted heads on other occasions, as when Osborne learned last March that Frost had been patronizing one of the casinos in Council Bluffs, Iowa, an hour from campus, into the wee hours. Osborne phoned Frost at 8 a.m. to tell him not to go again. As Osborne well knew, Frost isn't an early riser. According to senior guard Aaron Taylor, Frost's idea of a predawn pheasant and quail hunt is one that begins at 10 a.m. "I'm glad Coach put the casino off-limits," Frost says. "You realize that it was not a smart thing to be doing."

Osborne eventually barred the rest of the team from the casinos, but not before senior tight end Tim Carpenter won $89,000 last spring by drawing a royal flush in a poker game.

Frost has had no such luck at Nebraska. In 1996, his first season of eligibility with the Huskers, he led them to an 11-2 record and a No. 6 ranking. Coming on the heels of consecutive national championships, that record was considered an unmitigated disaster by some Nebraska fans. "You could have been Joe Montana and still had problems if you came here after Tommie Frazier," Hoskinson says, referring to the hero of the national-title teams.

Montana was exactly whom Frost tried to be during his two years at Stanford. On a recruiting visit he met Montana at Walsh's home, a potential NCAA no-no because it could have constituted improper contact with a booster—had it been deemed that Walsh was using Montana to help recruit Frost. The NCAA didn't sanction Frost or the Cardinal. Yet Frost suffered at Stanford, where he abandoned his training regimen and altered his throwing style. "All the other [Stanford] quarterbacks were smaller than me, so I stopped lifting," he says. "I changed my throwing motion to be more like Montana. I had a tape of him working out. I used to slow it down to watch his motion. I tried to make myself into someone else. You can pick up things from other people, but you can't be anything but yourself." Adding to his confusion, the Cardinal coaches started Frost at safety in five games during his sophomore year.

It took Frost awhile to become himself again at Nebraska. After the Huskers lost 19-0 at Arizona State in his second game as quarterback in '96, his confidence evaporated. Hoskinson, whose Battle Creek High team beat Frost's Wood River High in the 1992 Nebraska Class C-1 playoffs, pulled Frost aside one day. "He used to run people over," Hoskinson says. "I told him, 'I remember playing you in high school. We had a great team, and you made some of my buddies look bad. Now you hook-slide. That's not who you are.'"

By the end of the 1996 season Frost's old aggression had returned. This year he averaged 6.2 yards per carry and delighted in delivering blocks after the option pitch.

Frost never had more to prove than during the second game of this season. Osborne decided before the game to give backup quarterback Frankie London some quality playing time in the second quarter, so he sent him in for Frost with the Huskers trailing Central Florida 10-7 in Lincoln. London led Nebraska on a 65-yard scoring drive, and when Frost returned to the lineup on the Cornhuskers' next possession, some fans booed him. After the game Frost cried in the locker room.

"The thing that upset me the most wasn't the booing," he says. "I've come to expect that from the people around here. In the national and local media the impression went out that I was playing poorly. I had a good game that day. Even when I was doing things well, there has been a negative light."

The following week, while playing at then No. 2 Washington, Frost delivered a message to his critics. On Nebraska's first two possessions he ran for touchdowns of 34 and 30 yards to quickly put the Cornhuskers in control. Sales of the $55 number 7 jerseys at the Huskers Authentic store across the street from Memorial Stadium began to pick up. Not that Frost would win over everyone. "There are still die-hard fans who will never forgive him for going to Stanford," Taylor says. "They still say that in the local café."

Frost's two best performances this season have each followed a game in which he felt challenged. After Nebraska allowed Colorado to score two late touchdowns in the teams' regular-season finale, a 27-24 Huskers victory, Frost approached the Big 12 championship game a week later with renewed focus. In the first half against Texas A&M he completed 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards. At the intermission Nebraska led 37-3.

As for Frost's having a future in the NFL, Colorado defensive coordinator A.J. Christoff says, "He's not a drop-back passer," but Frost may get an opportunity to become one. He spent two years under Walsh's tutelage, which will allow him to break the code of virtually every pro playbook. Yet he is mentally prepared to accept never playing quarterback in the NFL. "I'm just going to feel it out," he says. "I'm definitely going to play quarterback in the East-West Shrine Game. And I'm going to ask to be on every special team I can be on. I feel like I'm a good athlete. That's the number one thing I offer people."

The East-West game will be played on Jan. 10 at Frost's onetime home field, Stanford Stadium. "It's a fitting end to the whole thing," he says. "Start out at Stanford, come back to Nebraska. I've finally been successful at Nebraska. To finish at Stanford is perfect. I am going full circle."

In the end, if he could choose any team and coach to play for next year, he knows which they would be. "I would love to have had the opportunity to play for Coach Osborne for three or four years," Frost says. "I could have gotten some things done.

Issue date: December 29, 1997



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