It had been at least four decades since the last true freshman offensive lineman started a game for West Virginia. That streak was broken in the 2020 season opener against Eastern Kentucky when Fairmont, W. Va. product Zach Fraizer started at center for the Mountaineers.
That first game was a spot-start in place of starter Chase Behrndt, who was serving a one-game suspension. The following week, however, Frazier moved to guard and ended up starting in all 10 games for WVU last season, being named a freshman All-American. With that full season in the books and Behrndt graduated, Frazier is spending this spring preparing to be the Mountaineers’ full-time starting center for 2021.
“Everything feels a lot slower when I’m out there,” Frazier said after practice on Saturday. “The game speed has slowed down for me because I understand the offense a lot more than I did last year. It’s a lot easier, it comes more naturally.”
Frazier was the second-highest rated recruit in West Virginia coming out of Fairmont Senior High School in the 2020 recruiting class. He chose WVU over offers from Louisville, Marshall, Stanford, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. In just his true sophomore season, Fraizer has become one of the leaders along the offensive line, according to his coaches.
“I really like his progress,” WVU coach Neal Brown said. “I think he has a chance to be a special player. He’s strong, really understands the game, studies it. He’s the quarterback upfront, without questions. I have high expectations for him at that position and I’m pretty fired up about him.”
“It all starts with Zach Frazier, he does a really good job from a communication standpoint,” offensive line coach Matt Moore added. “Frazier is our leader in this group. He sets the tone, he chases the ball and they’ve all got to follow him.”
While a freshman starting on the offensive line was rare, an underclassman starting at center is just as unusual. Fraizer said the biggest difference between playing guard are the leadership responsibilities that come with the center position.
“When you play guard you don’t have to make any of the mike [linebacker] calls,” Frazier explained. “When you play center you pretty much have to command the whole line in [pass] protection and in the run game. You have to be able to communicate a lot more.”
Moore said there are usually several challenges younger players deal with when playing center, mainly communication and reading the defense correctly. Fraizer, however, does not have these issues, according to Moore.
“He is a football guru, he loves it,” Moore said. “His dad played at Fairmont State, his dad loves football too and that’s always been their deal together. They don’t go golfing, they don’t go fishing, they sit around and watch old WVU football games and talk about who the mike [linebacker] is and three-technique and who they need to double-team. He’s a little different because he’s way ahead of where most young guys are. It makes it much easier on my side as far as teaching it to him.”
West Virginia is in its final week of spring football practices. The Mountaineers are scheduled to practice Wednesday and Friday this week and play the annual Gold-Blue Spring Game at 1 p.m. Saturday in Milan Puskar Stadium.