BOGACZYK: Frohnapfel Misses Brother, but Catches Cato
The Word on the Herd-September 3, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – While former Marshall star tight end Gator Hoskins was learning Saturday he’d made the Miami Dolphins’ active roster as an NFL rookie, his successor was channeling his inner Hoskins in the red zone.
In what he called a “very weird” scenario, Eric Frohnapfel made his first Marshall start since midway through his freshman season (2011), and the senior tight end led the Herd with five receptions for 54 yards, including two touchdowns.
In the first half of a 42-27 win at Miami (Ohio), Frohnapfel caught 11- and 1-yard scoring passes from quarterback Rakeem Cato. A crucial drive-continuing, 29-yard reception with less than six minutes left in the game may have been even bigger for the Herd.
This week, for the first time in his career, Frohnapfel has been selected as one of four game captains – with teammates Devon Johnson, Arnold Blackmon and A.J. Leggett – for the Herd’s home opener Saturday night against Rhode Island.
After being Hoskins’ backup for most of three seasons, 2014 presents a new opportunity for Frohnapfel, one of seven team members playing this season as MU graduates. What’s also different is that his twin, quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, no longer is a teammate after his graduate transfer to Massachusetts, where he’s won the Minutemen’s starting job.
“Actually, I had a lot of fun out there,” Frohnapfel said at Herd interviews Monday about his first start since 2011, when he was the starter in Weeks 1, 5 and 6 (West Virginia, Louisville, UCF). “Approaching games now as the starter is a lot different than before, when I was approaching things from a backup role.
“I know that at the start of every series, I’m taking the majority of the snaps. It’s more pressure and more responsibility, but for me, it just gives me more confidence to go out there and I’m going to be the guy now.”
Frohnapfel had been MU’s leading receiver in a game only once previously, with six catches for 60 yards in the season-opening loss at West Virginia. His five receptions against the RedHawks on Saturday were only two shy of his total in 14 games last season.
While he was having a big day at Yager Stadium, Blake and the Minutemen were falling 30-7 to Boston College at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Frohnapfel was 9-for-22 passing for 147 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown. He was sacked three times in his first college start. Both games were 3:30 p.m. starts, too.
How strange was it to not share his opening-game success with a brotherly teammate?
“Very weird,” said the Herd’s Frohnapfel, the younger brother by 22 minutes. “I called (Blake) right after the game. He was still going through his postgame stuff with his team, but I talked to him later that night and I didn’t know everything what had gone on/ I saw some of the highlights, got his opinion and talked to my parents. It was very weird, especially for my Mom and Dad, they weren’t there (in Oxford, Ohio). It was definitely a unique thing and I’ll get used to it. It was different for me, for sure.”
Frohnapfel said it was the first game he’d played for a football team without Blake as a teammate, through youth and high school football in Stafford, Va. The twins will turn 22 on Oct. 19.
“It was my first year of football, flag, and I was 7,” Eric said. “So, a pretty long time.”
The football separation of the twins presents a new situation for their parents. Eric said Steve and Lynn Frohnapfel have their own schedule worked out on which of the brothers to go watch on which weekend. The Herd tight end said it also helps because his father has retired recently, while taking a part-time job.
Asked for the Frohnapfel parents’ schedule, Eric grinned.
“They’ve gotten his one game this season now, so they’re at my next 11 … no, no,” he said. “They’re coming here this week (for the Herd home opener against Rhode Island), then next week (Ohio, at Edwards Stadium) … They’ve got the whole season scheduled out.”
In the early minutes postgame Saturday, Frohnapfel said his two scoring catches were on calls that featured Hoskins in the red zone in the last three seasons. Cato and Hoskins combined for 95 receptions for 1,289 yards and 27 scores from 2011-13.
“It’s an opportunity we get as tight ends in our offense,” Frohnapfel said after the game. “Obviously, Gator did that a lot last year and I’m trying to fill that role now. Those two plays are both plays on which Gator caught a lot of touchdowns.”
Frohnapfel’s ability and experience also played a part in a major move for the Herd this season, allowing Coach Doc Holliday to move Devon Johnson from tight end to running back, where Johnson had 151 rushing yards in the win Saturday.
Frohnapfel’s blocking skills also became a factor in the win as Marshall kept him lined up tight to aid true freshman left tackle AJ Addison, after Addison filled in for injured Sebastian Johansson.
Then, there was that big 29-yard catch in the final minutes, taking the Herd from its own 38 to the RedHawks’ 33 on a third-and-7 play. Marshall went on to add an insurance touchdown.
“At that point of the game, we needed a big chunk of yardage and I was glad to get it,” Frohnapfel said. “It was a good read by Cato. They sort of dropped everybody and I wasn’t open at first, but he kept his eyes downfield and threw a good ball … I thought I was about get destroyed (by a Miami defender), but he just kind of whiffed on me.”
Frohnapfel figures that the pitch-and-catch relationship with Cato will blossom between fourth-year seniors. The new starter has 29 receptions from Cato for 298 yards and three scores in their three seasons together with the Herd.
His first TD catch – the Herd’s first score of the season – was the result of a lunging effort by Frohnapfel. On the second one, he had to muscle his way to the ball despite significant contact.
“It was a good ball by Cato,” Frohnapfel said of the first TD. “He sort of threw it before I came out of my break, so when I came out, the ball was already coming up on me, so I kind of had to dive for it, I was happy to come up with it. I was happy they didn’t go to review on it; maybe the turf helped me a little bit, but it was good.
“The second one, I was just really surprised the (Miami linebacker Lo Wood) was holding me, grabbing on to me and I figured, ‘OK, we’re going to get the flag and play another down.’ Cato threw the ball anyway, and – I don’t know – it was just there, just put it in a spot.”
Frohnapfel said his ability to catch that ball was rooted in practice.
“It’s something our position coach (Todd Hartley) stresses a lot, the tight end catch in traffic, some of drills we do, work we get … ‘The Blaster’ (a gantlet of sorts), we’ve got to run through it and I always say it’s a running back thing … but we do it anyway.
“(Hartley) hits us with the pads when we catch the ball. Or he lines up the trash cans and we’ve got to catch it while it’s coming and we can’t see it … So, sometimes at the time we’re moaning and groaning, but I mean, it seemed to pay off for us.”
Frohnapfel also understands his ability to make those plays will bring more balls his way. How different is his confidence-building relationship with Cato, compared to 2011-13?
“It’s very different now,” Frohnapfel said. “Going into spring ball, it was definitely something that I started to notice. Whereas before, when we were going over adjustments on how to make a play, he was telling Gator and I was just listening in. And now, it’s me.
“It’s just something that we continue to develop, that chemistry, that trust between us. So far, this is a good start.”