It’s hot, and he’s tired after a recent practice, but there’s a smile on Johnny Frasier’s face.
There’s a good reason for that.
“I feel a whole lot better,” the N.C. State running back said.
After a year of injuries, distractions and adjustments, the high school star from tiny Princeton is eager to play football again.
“I’m ready to make a name for myself at the collegiate level,” Frasier said.
Frasier was a recruiting coup for N.C. State and coach Dave Doeren in February 2015. A four-star prospect ranked in the top 100 nationally, Frasier picked the Wolfpack over Florida State and Alabama, among others.
At Princeton, a 45-minute drive east down Highway 70 from Raleigh, Frasier ran for more than 7,000 yards and scored 109 touchdowns in his career, drawing comparisons to prep legends Todd Gurley (Tarboro) and T.A. McLendon (Albermarle).
But an early ankle injury and his own conditioning worked against Frasier in his first year at N.C. State.
“I came in way too huge,” said Frasier, who peaked at 245 pounds last year but is down 20 pounds. “I’m a step or two faster and a little lighter.”
And he’s more focused on football. Both Frasier’s mom, Sonia, and grandmother, Eloise, were dealing with heart-related health issues back in Princeton last summer.
“I was worried about them,” Frasier said.
There was also the matter of competition in N.C. State’s backfield. The Wolfpack had top rushers Matt Dayes and Shadrach Thornton back from the 2014 team and newcomers Reggie Gallaspy and Nyheim Hines, both ranked among the best high school prospects in the state.
Combine it all with the ankle injury and the trips back to Princeton to check on his family and redshirting really wasn’t a difficult decision.
“It was probably the best thing I could have done,” Frasier said.
Not that watching was easy. After so much success in high school, and the adulation that comes with that success in a small town (the town of Princeton has a population of less than 1,300), there were – and still are – certain expectations for Frasier’s college career.
And there is more pressure that comes with the reputation that Frasier has.
“Is it fair or unfair?” Doeren said of the extra pressure on Frasier. “I don’t know but it’s definitely real.”
Frasier admitted he felt like he let his family and fans back in Princeton down last season when he didn’t play.
“That really tore me up,” he said.
He tried to make the most of the season on the scout team and running against N.C. State’s first-team defense.
“You really see how a game situation would be and I feel like I’m more prepared,” Frasier said.
He showed a flash of his old “Johnny Rocket” form in the spring game with a 32-yard touchdown run. But he had a concussion during the spring that provided another setback.
“The talent is there, for sure, he can run, he can catch and he’s a tremendous person but to be a good college football player, you have to be healthy and you have to have a consistent way to prepare all the time,” Doeren said.
So far, so good on the health and consistency front for Frasier during training camp. Doeren said it’s the best he has seen Frasier practice.
And Frasier’s mom and grandma are doing better back in Princeton, too.
“They’re just ready to see me hit the field,” Frasier said.
They’re not the only ones.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio