Gregg Frazier knew the Towson redshirt sophomore quarterback who struggled in the third quarter before scoring the game-winning touchdown against Eastern Washington last Saturday.
As the youngest of three boys in his family, Connor Frazier — that quarterback — desperately wanted to play with his brothers, Gregg and Kyle, while growing up. They relented under one condition: no special exceptions for their brother, who is 8 years younger than Gregg and 3 years younger than Kyle.
"He grew up with a football in his hand since he was just in diapers," said Gregg Frazier, a 28-year-old assistant football coach at Damascus High School in Montgomery County, where all three Frazier boys played and graduated. "He'd always been in the backyard playing when me and my friends were playing, or when Kyle and his friends were playing.
"He was just a little runt running around and playing and getting beat up and crying and getting back up and getting back in there. He always loved it from an early age."
Connor Frazier, who scored on a 1-yard run with 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter to lift Towson to the 35-31 victory in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision semifinal, said he learned a lot from the battles in the backyard with his brothers.
"I think the first thing that they taught me was just toughness because they were always bigger than me," Connor Frazier said. "And I always wanted to be like my brothers and go out there and play in the yard with them. They wouldn't really take it too easy on me. I just learned a lot, and they also loved football just like me."
Frazier showed what he picked up in those lessons during the second half of Saturday's game.
After replacing senior Peter Athens — who injured his right (throwing) shoulder near the end of the second quarter and did not return — Frazier didn't complete a pass in two attempts in the third quarter, was sacked once, and led an offense that gained just one first down on three possessions.
From the time Frazier entered the game until Eastern Washington's first drive of the fourth quarter, the Eagles scored 24 straight points to take a 31-21 lead.
But in that pivotal final quarter, Frazier connected on 5 of 7 passes for 48 yards, rushed the ball 11 times for 62 yards, and scored the go-ahead touchdown before the defense sealed the comeback win with an interception in the closing seconds.
Towson coach Rob Ambrose said it's incorrect to blame Frazier for the offense's difficulties in the third quarter.
"Struggling in the third quarter was a group effort. It wasn't just him," Ambrose said. "We weren't playing that well up front. We were showing [that] we were a little road-weary, and part of that came in internally. Not having the guy calling the plays who's been calling the plays all year long, I'm sure that takes its toll on 18- to 22-year-olds. … Once we got into the fourth quarter, we got right into the groove of all the things we did. We opened the offense a little bit and spread it out, which played to his strengths, that if they wanted to cover everybody, we knew he could take off running."
Frazier, 6 feet and 200 pounds, gives the Tigers a different look than Athens, who has started all 15 games this season.
Frazier had thrown the ball just four times this year going into the semifinal — completing three for 43 yards — but he has created opportunities for Towson in other ways.
After rushing 18 times for 98 yards against Eastern Washington, Frazier has 212 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries this fall. He also has four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown.
Eric Wallich, the head coach at Damascus, said Frazier's mobility helped the team reach the playoffs in all three years in which he was a starter, including an appearance in the state semifinals in his senior year.
But more than his skills as a quarterback, Frazier's character impressed Wallich, who said he was not surprised to see his former quarterback's perseverance in Saturday's fourth quarter.
"He's a winner at everything that he's ever done in life," Wallich said. "Basketball, football, there's no moment too big for him, and he doesn't get rattled. He's like a Joe Montana."
That doesn't mean that Connor Frazier is above a little constructive criticism. He returned to his parents' home in Damascus for dinner Sunday night and reviewed a recording of the win with Gregg and Kyle Frazier — the latter who played quarterback at Monmouth.
"We're just another set of ears," Gregg Frazier said about how he and Kyle help Connor. "Ultimately, it comes down to what the Towson coaches have taught him to do and say. They've done a great job, and a lot of credit needs to be given to them, that they had Connor as prepared as he was to go into the game at that point."
When the Tigers face North Dakota State, the two-time defending FCS champion, Frazier said he's ready to start if Athens' shoulder cannot recover in time.
"I don't think there'll be a lot of pressure," he said. "It's a team thing. We've all got to go out and perform. I'm just going to go and do — like the coaches say — my one-eleventh, and we'll end up on top. So I've just got to do my job and everybody else will do their job and hopefully, we come out on top."