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In each issue of Bucknuts The Magazine, we have in-depth features on Ohio State football players, coaches and prospects. We also have analysis pieces on the Buckeyes as well as their opponents, the Big Ten and college football world in general. Plus, we have features on OSU athletes in a variety of sports, including men's and women's basketball, hockey, wrestling, baseball and other sports.
Headline: Man Of The Family
By Charles Babb
(From May 2006 issue)
Three years ago, Marcel Frost committed to play for coach Kirk Ferentz and the Iowa Hawkeyes.
He did it because he knew Ohio State didn't need another tight end with all-world prospect Louis Irizarry on his way. But late in the recruiting season the Buckeyes offered Frost as a defensive end. After giving the matter some thought, he decommitted from Iowa and switched his allegiance to OSU and coach Jim Tressel.
Common wisdom said his change of heart was due to the mesmerizing power of the Scarlet and Gray in the state of Ohio. No true son of Ohio could ignore Tressel's pull; it was simply too much.
Common wisdom couldn't have been more wrong.
Don't misunderstand; Frost is thrilled to be a Buckeye. He is satisfied with the decision he made and feels it was the right one. But this wasn't about being from Ohio and wanting to play for his home state team.
Frost had another reason on his mind – his family.
Frost's grandmother and biggest fan, Mattie Holmes, had been diagnosed with cancer.
"It hit me Iowa is eight hours from Cleveland, and it's hard to get home when things happen. Ohio State is just two hours away," Frost said, quietly.
Frost's former high school coach and mentor Eric Mitchell explained, "The fact that he does so much and is so involved with his siblings and his extended family – he just felt like it would be best to be closer to home and not in Iowa City."
Most everyone has grandparents, and the nature of life is that most everyone is going to lose those grandparents. But Mattie was more than just a grandmother. She helped raise young Marcel. When his mother was at work trying to make ends meet, it was Mattie who took care of him. When school ended, it was Mattie who came to pick him up.
"Every day she would come pick me up, take me to my house, and stay with me until my mother was off work," remembers Frost. "She would play games, cook -- she was great."
Mattie cared not only for Frost but the entire family. A single mother herself, she had raised five children of her own and now helped with a second generation. She was their matriarch.
Her sickness hit the family like a physical blow. Frost sought to help deflect that punishment and carry the load.
While other players were out socializing, in their rooms playing video games, or even working to hone their skills and gain that competitive edge, Frost headed back to Cleveland.
"He was a big-time basketball player at high school," Mitchell said. "He helped develop his little sister's basketball game coming home and spending time with her and taking her mind off her grandma. He would do things with his foster brothers so the parents could spend time with the grandma. He would take them for an ice cream or to the mall to walk around. He was very resourceful and played a tremendous role during that time of need for the whole family."
Eventually, Mattie succumbed to the cancer and passed away during Frost's freshman season. The family looked to one another – and to him – for comfort.
That can be a heavy load for an 18-year-old kid, and Mitchell explained, "He is the oldest male. Because of his physical presence, people tend to lean on him for support mentally, socially, and even physically."
In turn, Frost leaned and still leans on Mitchell.
"In talking with him, the one thing I had to assure him was, ‘It's going to be ok. Your grandmother has gone to a better place, and she would want you to do the things to make Marcel Frost better,' " Mitchell said. "He needed to hear that and understand his world was not going to come to a halting stop. He had to push forward and continue to do and to stay the course."
The loss changed Frost, and he carries it with him still.
An emotionally private person, Frost doesn't talk much about the ordeal to others or to the media, but he quite literally wears his love for her on his sleeve. He keeps her memory alive with a tattoo on his arm; he can't even look in the mirror without seeing what he wants to become based on who she was.
Mitchell believes the loss, while tragic, hasn't hurt Frost's development but has instead aided in turning a boy into a man.
"I think it helps him mature and grow even more," Mitchell said. "Negatively, I don't think it will affect him in what he does in the classroom or on the football field. He may feel the need to spend time here (in Cleveland) more so than he has in the past, but I still think because he has matured he will keep everything prioritized and in order so he won't lose any ground in either situation."
Yet keeping his priorities straight has been a bit of a struggle for Frost in Columbus. Disciplined by coach Tressel and the staff in 2005, he was unable to play in the first two games.
Perhaps it is because he has been preoccupied at times with his family or maybe it is simply a matter of a young person trying to find their way into adulthood, but Frost admits he did himself no favors.
"I definitely was in the dog house, probably in the last dog house, but you have to keep working hard and keep fighting," Frost said.
He says he deserved his reservation in the Doggie Motel and continued, "It was more personal – me doing things I shouldn't have been doing, (and) me shooting myself in the foot."
Lest anyone draw the wrong conclusion, Frost's infractions were more of the garden variety.
"It was just mental things, missing meetings," he disclosed. "Or, not even missing but just being late to meetings and all that stuff adds up – one thing after another, and it's hard to get out of it."
Frost found out that doesn't fly in Columbus.
"Coach Tressel pays close attention to small details. Marcel had to learn a hard lesson and learn it the hard way," explained Mitchell. "Being on time to a meeting is important. It is important enough that he might not be able to play as much as he thought he should play for the simple fact coach Tressel and his staff have to believe they can trust you for you to get on the field. Bottom line, until they feel like they can trust you, you won't be able to play.
"That trust comes from being at meetings on time, being a leader on the field, encouraging other players, and being positive. All that comes from him maturing and growing up and realizing, ‘OK, I have to be a guy if I am going to be on the field.' It took him a while to get to that point, but he has gotten it and now that he has gotten it I think the kid is ready to take off."
After sitting out the first two games and watching teammates Ryan Hamby and Rory Nicol suffer injuries, the redshirt sophomore Frost had his opportunity. Granted, he was about the last warm body on scholarship, and his rear had more splinters than Wally Pipp, but Ohio State needed someone at tight end who could play the position if the offense was to evolve.
Frost meet carrot. Carrot meet Frost.
Walking onto the field served as the much needed wake-up call.
"When I got in I was like, ‘Wow! I've been doing all these things and I could have been on the field helping my team,' " said Frost. "It really hurt to not be on the field. When I had a taste of it I was like, ‘I don't want to mess this up. I want to keep playing.' "
Suddenly Frost decided it wasn't worth missing or even being late to a meeting. He realized as good as the carrot of playing time tasted on an occasional basis, he could plant a field of carrots, enough to gorge himself upon if he sowed the right seeds.
Still learning his position after being switched around from defense to offense after his redshirt freshman season, tight ends coach John Peterson remarked, "Marcel had a lot to learn. The key for Marcel is athletically he has all the tools. For him, it's just going to be the mental part and learning and growing in the off-season mentally. You don't want to be on the field and thinking. Once he's able to just react and play with his God-given ability, he'll be able to play fast and strong and allow his natural ability to take over and he'll become a better player."
The sky is the limit if Frost is truly ready to be a man for his family and the man for the Buckeyes, but according to Mitchell, all signs point toward Frost being able to do just that.
"He has made the most progress in establishing himself as a man," Mitchell said. "His outlook is not as a boy anymore. He looks at things and processes things from a man's perspective now. I think that is the biggest thing he has done. In looking at it from that perspective he has made leaps and bounds. As men, our world, if this is what I do this is the result. If this isn't what I do then this can be the result of what I don't do. It is giving the responsibility to someone else or putting the blame on somebody else, he has eliminated that. It is Marcel Frost I do it, or I Marcel Frost don't do it."
Can he do it?
If 2005 is any indicator of 2006, he has all of the tools. Catching just seven balls in nine games in limited action, Frost averaged 10 yards per reception. Perhaps that sounds pedestrian, but it was best among tight ends and good enough for fourth best on the team among those who snagged more than half-dozen passes. He possesses the athleticism to stretch a defense vertically and the necessary bulk to block and allow the running game to burn a defense horizontally.
If you doubt it, just ask Notre Dame and Michigan. Frost scorched their defenses for four receptions and forced them to cover him. This left Troy Smith more room to roam the field or flick the ball to Ted Ginn, Anthony Gonzalez or Santonio Holmes for chunks of yardage.
Frost intends to improve on this performance in 2006 by "making plays."
"I tell Troy and all the quarterbacks to just throw it up," said Frost, who caught a touchdown pass in last year's spring game. "I'll go get it no matter where it is. I'm not scared to go across the middle – it doesn't matter. I'll just go get it. With all of our threats outside, some teams don't consider or pay attention to the tight end as much. I feel like just doing that (using the tight end), we can make it a better offense for the team. We can help everyone out."
Everyone, that is, except the opposing defense.
In the meantime, Frost is bent on improving his body, gaining weight in the right places, and being in shape to avoid injuries like those that have set back his progress in the past. His plan during the winter was to start working out early in the morning and maybe even come back for a second workout following classes.
Mitchell confirms Frost has been as good as his word thus far.
"He and (fellow Brush High School graduate) Roy Hall made a commitment to each other to work out together and push each other," Mitchell said. "I think that is tremendous, and Marcel is definitely going to benefit from it because Roy is a workaholic. I'm excited about this upcoming year. I know he is ready to compete and looking forward to competing and helping the Buckeyes possibly get back to that national championship."
And what if old habits do indeed die hard and Frost is tempted to slack off even for a moment?
"Every time I feel myself starting to slip, I just look at my arm," he said. "I think about the future instead of the present. Down the line I can make millions or do what can possibly take my millions away now. It just doesn't add up."
If Frost continues subtracting the nagging negatives and adding powerful positives as he has been the past nine months, he will undoubtedly find that what he is left with will add up to more than millions of dollars. He will claim a commodity worth more than anything he could ever hope or dream; he will walk a path that would have made his grandma Mattie proud.