From the archives: Tommie Frazier's surprise signing provided a Big Red boost

For the first time in his 20 seasons at Nebraska, coach Tom Osborne started a true freshman at quarterback in 1992. Tommie Frazier, pictured here in NU's 34-24 win over Missouri that season, went on to win two national championships with the Huskers.

On Feb. 4, 1992, a young quarterback from Bradenton, Florida, shocked the nation — especially Notre Dame and Clemson, two finalists in his college recruitment — when he chose to become a Husker.

Four years and two national championships later, Tommie Frazier would grow into one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in college football history.

Hindsight is 20/20, but did those tracking recruiting then know that the All-American would provide such a jolt of electricity to whichever team he picked on national signing day 25 years ago this week?

One thing is clear: Frazier had talent.

The 6-foot-1, 192-pound QB could run the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds and accounted for 4,200 yards and 63 touchdowns in two years as a starter at Manatee High School, leading his team to a 21-3 record in Florida's largest class.

National recruiting analyst Tom Lemming called Frazier "the best all-around quarterback I've seen in five years. ... A great ballhandler and runner. A great precision passer.

"He's the kind of guy who can get Nebraska back up there himself."

A few years later he would do just that, earning accolades while leading NU to a pair of national championships following the 1994 and 1995 seasons.

But at the time, Husker coach Tom Osborne faced questions about his new QB. With some wondering whether NU could win with the option offense, Osborne insisted after signing Frazier that he viewed the QB as a balanced player. Nebraska wouldn't be one-dimensional with Frazier under center.

"We wouldn't have recruited him if he couldn't throw," Osborne said.

Still, the longtime coach wasn't sure how NU fans would react to the signing. Many Husker supporters were of the mind that Nebraska should start pursuing more pure passers to lead the offense.

"I remember when Turner Gill signed, there was great rejoicing in Nebraska, " Osborne told The World-Herald. "We'd beaten Oklahoma for him. Turner Gill was an option quarterback, and that was OK. But now, I'm not so sure people don't feel like we need to go over and recruit a Gino Torretta."

Torretta, who led Miami to a win over Nebraska in the 1992 Orange Bowl and a share of the national title, was a dropback passer. Osborne hasn't had one of those since going to the option game in the late 1970s.

But Osborne stuck to his plan, and reaped the dividends when Frazier signed with NU — a move that stunned the Notre Dame faithful, who thought he was a shoe-in to come to South Bend, Indiana, as well as coach Lou Holtz, who visited Frazier's home the Friday before signing day. Clemson was also considered a strong favorite over Nebraska.

But Frazier picked Nebraska — a move Manatee coach Joe Kinnan said surprised both himself and Frazier's own mother — after Osborne had promised the QB a chance to compete for the starting job in the fall. 

"It wasn't important to me to get a guarantee that I start," Frazier said after his signing. "But it gives me the best chance to go in and prove myself."

Kinnan said it helped that NU's offense was similar to the one his QB ran at Manatee. It probably didn't hurt that Frazier and his coach flew to Lincoln on a private jet with Osborne the weekend before signing day. Following that visit, Frazier cited NU's team unity as a major draw.

"Everywhere you went, there were 20 or 30 (Husker players) at the same place," Frazier told the Sarasota (Fla.) Herald-Tribune. "They were always together."

That, along with various other factors, was enough to give NU a big signing day upset.

So, the national analysts loved Frazier. His high school coach loved him. And many of the national football powers wanted him on board. What did the local scribes think?

Here's Tom Shatel's post-signing day column on the future College Football Hall of Fame inductee. It ran under the headline "Florida star brightens NU" in Feb. 7, 1992, editions of The World-Herald:

We hate to bring up Nebraska football now that this basketball season has arrived — but did anybody else notice anything different about Memorial Stadium on Wednesday?

Sunshine.

The dark, gloomy clouds over Nebraska football, gone.

It has been a long, cold winter in Nebraska. Even with temperatures good enough to improve your backswing, the forecast has been a slight chance of blue chips. Right?

First there was the Omar Soto revelation. Then another thud in another Orange Bowl with pot shots from Miami to L.A.

If that wasn’t enough — and it was more than enough — Nebraska took two more hits when, in the same week, junior I-back Scott Baldwin was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a woman and sophomore tight end Johnny Mitchell said sayonara.

Back on track

A hard winter, yes. Until “he” said yes.

You know, The Guy. Tommie Frazier, the All-America high school quarterback from Bradenton, Fla., who announced Tuesday he was coming to Nebraska.

He could be the next Turner Gill or the next McCathorn Clayton or the first Tommie Frazier. It doesn’t matter. What mattered was, for all the storm damage the program seemingly was taking in 1992, the Huskers got a top-rated quarterback to choose them over Notre Dame and Clemson.

And the sun came back out.

“I’ve heard from different people outside the program since it was apparent Frazier was going to sign,” said Dave Gillespie, NU’s recruiting coordinator. “They all said the same thing: looks like we’re getting back on track.

“I think maybe it was the pick-me-up that they needed, although we (coaches) don’t look at it that way. We realize Tommie is just one of 22 players we’re signing.”

It says something about the society we live in — and Nebraska is not alone here — that one 17-year-old kid whom nobody here could recognize on the street can raise so much hope. But Frazier has.

“It’s like, ‘What have you done for me lately?’” said assistant coach Kevin Steele, who helped recruit Frazier. “That’s just America.”

Only one game

Amazing though, isn’t it? On Jan. 2, you had to wonder how Nebraska would be able to recruit anybody — or keep the 15 commitments it already had secured. So here we are, on Feb. 7, with an NU recruiting class some “experts” say ranks in the top five, 10, 20 in the country.

Guess these guys skipped the Washington Post story calling Nebraska’s Orange bowl offense “prehistoric.”

“From an insiders’ point of view, it was devastating to us,” Gillespie said. “But the kids are removed enough to realize it’s only one game and they are not going to base their decision or perception of Nebraska on one game.

“I guess we could all learn from that.”

While Tom Osborne may have looked dwarfed on Jan. 1, the man still is a force in living rooms across the country. You may not like his offense, but you can’t argue with the image he offers to mommies and daddies.

“This year he really set his jaw to make sure that (Orange Bowl) didn’t happen again,” Gillespie said. “To his thinking, the way to do that is to have great players.”

The jury is out for 2-3 years on how many great ones are in Nebraska’s 22. Maybe the Orange Bowl loss chased some great ones away. But if the Huskers’ image is as bad as some people say, they’d be calling the cast of “Necessary Roughness” for signatures today.

Concerned about rules

“The only time I hear anything negative about us is when I’m in Nebraska,” Steele said. “The people in the South are in awe of this program.”

Osborne said the Baldwin incident — which came on an impressionable “championship banquet” weekend — may have cost the team one or two players. And only two early commitments reneged, he said, but not because of the Orange Bowl.

In fact, Osborne said his biggest concern this year was how new recruiting rules limiting phone calls and contacts would hurt Nebraska.

“It appears they hurt us less than I thought,” Osborne said.

A stranger named Tommie Frazier helped tremendously. Whether or not Frazier ever plays a down, he’s already done more than he knows.

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