By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — He’s missed some kicks during his University of Virginia football career, but he’s made many, many more. He suffered a hip injury that sidelined him for the final eight games of the 2013 season. He’s earned a bachelor’s degree in studio art, focusing on sculpture, animation and graphic design, and he’s now taking graduate classes.
He’s looked up in the stands at every game, home or away, and seen his father proudly cheering him on. He’s established himself as one of the nation’s most reliable kickers, and he’s engaged to be married next spring.
For Ian Frye, his UVA experience has been anything but uneventful.
“Like with the majority of careers, there’s ups and downs,” Frye said this week. “The season where I was injured, that was tough. That injury kind of set me back, but it definitely helped with maturity. You kind of realize not everything’s given to you, and you gotta work for it.
“But other than that, it’s been great. I love all the `Hoo fans. I love the student body. The place here is wonderful.”
A graduate of Virginia High School in Bristol, Frye has two more games to play in Charlottesville: Nov. 21 against Duke and Nov. 28 against Virginia Tech. First, however, UVA (3-6 overall, 2-3 ACC) will play its final regular-season road game, Saturday at 12:30 p.m. against Louisville (5-4, 4-2) at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Frye won’t mind seeing the Cardinals again. The highlight of his stellar 2014 season was the game-winning 42-yard field goal he made in a 23-21 upset of No. 21 Louisville at Scott Stadium.
Overall, the 6-6, 220-pound Frye made 22 of 27 field-goal attempts in 2014. He’s 14 for 17 this season and has made his past 11 attempts. With 64 points, Frye is far and away UVA’s leading scorer.
“He’s been money. He really has,” said Larry Lewis, who’s in his third season as the Wahoos’ special teams coordinator. “It’s been fun to watch his development from the time that I got here until where he’s at right now.”
With 42 career field goals, Frye ranks fourth all-time at UVA, and he may well pass third-place Robert Randolph (46) before the season ends. In career points, Frye is 11th, with 197, and a top-seven finish is a realistic goal for him.
He’s coming off a game in which he kicked field goals of 25, 48, 36 and 47 yards, a performance that earned him recognition as the ACC specialist of the week.
“He has been a very positive and bright spot for us,” Virginia head coach Mike London said. “He’s gotten better and continues to get better. We’re glad to have him on our side.”
A four-year letter-winner as a kicker and punter at Virginia High, Frye arrived at UVA in 2011 as a recruited walk-on. He redshirted that fall and then in 2012 handled kickoffs for the Cavaliers. As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, he added field goals and extra points to his list of responsibilities, but a right hip flexor ended his season prematurely.
Frye was 3 for 5 on field goals in 2012 and 3 for 4 in ’13. He wasn’t nearly as technically sound then, however, as he is now.
“My form was lacking,” Frye recalled, “I was using more of just natural ability. Throughout the next few years, I’ve really kind of honed in on the form that works best for the body type I have and gotten everything locked down.”
Before Frye’s injury in 2013, Lewis said, “I saw a technique that was really uncharacteristic of a [successful kicker]. Now he’s changed a lot of what he’s done as far as being over the ball, his hand placement, a lot of those kind of things. He’s really developed. He’s really done a nice job of working at his craft.”
Frye, who was put on scholarship before the 2014-15 academic year, made his first three field-goal attempts this season — all in Virginia’s season-opening loss at UCLA — but then missed his next three over a span of three games. Part of the problem was that Frye, long-snapper Tyler Shirley and holder Andrew Mackay were still trying to get comfortable with each other.
Virginia’s holder in 2013 and ’14, Matt Johns, is the team’s starting quarterback this season. Mackay, a sophomore who’s also a backup quarterback, replaced Johns as holder this summer, and the transition was not always seamless.
“As I look back at that,” Lewis said, “I really think it takes some game time to get used to a new holder. As much as you want to think that doesn’t affect a guy, it really does. You’ve been with Matt Johns for a couple years, and then all of a sudden you put in a new guy.
“You can practice it as much as you want, but I think it just took some confidence on Ian’s part that Andrew was going to get it done. I think together they’ve worked tremendously, and Ian’s been money since then.”
Frye agreed with Lewis’ assessment.
“I came into the season expecting to have Matt there,” Frye said. “I think it was actually the first day of [training] camp, and I overheard he wasn’t going to be the holder. So that was not the greatest news.”
Several players auditioned to be holder before Mackay won the job. “He had a natural ability,” Frye said. “Early on, everyone kind of has hiccups, but he’s really ironed it out and done a really good job, and I have confidence with him and Tyler Shirley, and it’s great.”
The sight of Frye lining up for a field-goal attempt stirs mixed emotions among UVA fans, as well as his teammates and coaches. They’re confident he’ll make the kick, but they’ve grown weary of seeing the Cavaliers settle for field goals, especially after a drive stalls in the red zone.
“It’s a blessing in that you have a guy that when you get inside that area, he can kick field goals,” London said. “But what we want ultimately are touchdowns.”
Frye understands the frustration.
“I love kicking field goals,” he said. “It’s a rush, but I’d trade `em for extra points, for sure.
“Everyone on the team, we want the touchdowns. I’m happy to help out and get three points when available, but sure I’d love to kick extra points any time of the day.”
Frye also loves being part of a football team. He’s interested in pursuing a professional career, but he’s not sure how NFL teams have him rated.
“I haven’t researched too much,” Frye said. “The big thing is just setting yourself up well in seasons like last season and this season and giving yourself an opportunity to go to a camp, compete for the job and win it if you can.”
Whenever his football career ends, he’ll look for work that challenges him creatively, whether it be animation or film editing or graphic design. His fiancÃ©e, Chelsea Capets, has another year on her contract as a nurse at the UVA Medical Center, Frye said, and “I’d love to be in the area and work for a couple companies around here to kind of build the rÃ©sumÃ©.”
His father, Mark Frye, made headlines last season when he suffered a heart attack at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah, during the first half of Virginia’s game against BYU. Ian, who at halftime was apprised of his father’s condition, went 4 for 4 on field goals that afternoon, including a 46-yarder early in the fourth quarter.
“That was probably one of the hardest kicks that I’ve ever had to do,” Frye said last fall, “just knowing about my dad and what he was going through and having to perform still for the team.”
The elder Frye made it to UVA’s game against Kent State at Scott Stadium the next Saturday and, nearly 14 months later, remains in good health.
“He’s joined a gym,” Ian said, “and he’s walking a lot more, exercising, and he cut back on sodas and candy bars. Those are his two favorite things.”
Mark Frye is an attorney in Southwest Virginia. Ian smiled and shook his head when asked if he might follow his father into the legal profession.
“I really enjoy hands-on [work],” Ian said, “and the creative process. As an attorney, creativity is not your strong suit so much as following the rules to get everything right.”