“The five most recognizable people in the state of Alabama are the coach at Alabama and the coach at Auburn, the starting quarterback at Alabama and the starting quarterback at Auburn, and then the governor. In that order.”
You would think a star high school quarterback on the cusp of a big time college career would operate with a certain amount of swagger. But that's not the Kiehl Frazier I got to know. Kiehl is a quiet, focused young man, often looking down to check Facebook on his phone when he's bored of the adults around him raving about him all the time. He handles reporters' questions with studied maturity, the right amount of sports clichés, and a good dose of bemused distance. Peyton Manning at age 17 must've had nothing on him.
In the summer of 2010, we went to top-ranked Auburn University, where Kiehl had verbally committed. We hoped to film there, but airtight NCAA rules barred us from trailing around with cameras. Apparently, information about a player's relationship with a college before the player formally commits is more tightly held than state secrets (certainly so in the WikiLeaks era). All we could do was wander the gleaming glass and steel field house -- a hushed, immaculate temple exuding Southern football grandeur. When it was finally clear we couldn't turn on our cameras, I went to say goodbye to Kiehl.
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I found him sitting in a lower level room, in front of a screen that would've easily filled a small movie theater. Next to him was a guy who looked like his twin, but wider, taller, generally bigger. It was 21-year-old Cam Newton -- Auburn's then-starting quarterback, who would lead his team to a national championship and weather a recruiting controversy to win the 2010 Heisman trophy. But at that moment, they were just two guys playing Madden NFL on the Xbox. Each had built a pro quarterback, and they were battling it out on the enormous screen. In real life, one was about to be tested by the fierce SEC football machine, and the other was the new kid, about to find his way in.
I sat with them for a minute and watched. Cam was winning -- and making sure Kiehl knew it. But this fall, it's Kiehl's turn at Auburn. I wonder if the next time I see these two players battle it out, it will be on an NFL field rather than Xbox. And that quiet Kiehl Frazier might just be ready to let Cam know it, in his own way.
It's summertime in Springdale, Arkansas, and a group of local high school football players are at the annual county fair.
But for one senior, high school hasn't just been about sports, grades and girls -- it's been about building a career.
Kiehl Frazier is the star quarterback of the Shiloh Christian Saints.
Experts call him a physical specimen. He's 6'3, 215 pounds, and runs faster than some NFL quarterbacks.
Announcer: Shiloh Christian quarterback Kiehl Frazier has done just about everything...
He's been swarmed by the media since the 10th grade.
Announcer: He was the best athlete on the field tonight...
Announcer: Frazier, named USA Today's National Offensive Player of the Year...
DALLAS JACKSON, Senior Analyst, RivalsHigh: Kiehl Frazier, the quarterback from Shiloh Christian, our analysts have him ranked as one of the best duel-threat quarterbacks in the country. I believe he's a four-star player. He's really the heart and soul of that team.
PRODUCER: Where do you want to be when you're 22, when you graduate from college?
KIEHL FRAZIER: I want to be heading to an NFL training camp for my rookie season. When I'm 25, I want to be a starting quarterback in the NFL making a lot of money.
For an ambitious player like Kiehl, it's not just about putting up numbers on the field. It's also about marketing an image.
On a Saturday in the summer, Kiehl and the team shoot a music video that will play on the stadium screen before every home game.
The director of the video is Walt Williams, a local sports promoter.
Walt Williams: You don't have to oversell every time. Do some that are simple and some that are a little over the edge.
He promotes the careers of promising college prospects like Kiehl.
WALT WILLIAMS, Sports Promoter: I mean, essentially what we do is we market players to colleges. Uh, they're the product, you know, the colleges are the buyer, essentially.
Walt's company sells promotion packages for recruits, including a personal website and a highlight reel. For these services, families pay up to $3000.
WALT WILLIAMS: Really what we try to do is just shed the best light possible on them. So, it's much like marketing a product is all it really is. I mean, as a recruit, you become a product.
Announcer: Springdale Arkansas's Kiehl Frazier may be the most heavily recruited quarterback in the nation...
Before his senior year, Kiehl was already attending invitation-only camps and tournaments across the country, facing the cameras wherever he went.
WALT WILLIAMS: Kiehl understands that things like making eye contact, making sure that you're always very sharp and well put-together -- I think all those things are important. They're all about perception. If you show up looking like you rolled out of bed, people are going to think you're not very prepared. We've talked about, you know, making sure that he just does things that give all the people all the right reasons to like him
PRODUCER: How many media interviews do you think you've done over the years?
KIEHL FRAZIER: I don't know, I've done a lot. Probably like 100, 200.
WALT WILLIAMS: And people will say, you know, "Let him be a kid, let him have fun." But he has to make a sacrifice at some point, whether it's now, or whether it's down the road. The same kids that are being kids right now will be making $35,000 at an entry-level job when they're 24 years old. Kiehl will make more than that in one day if he signs with the NFL.
By his junior year, Kiehl was the most sought-after college football prospect in Arkansas history.
KIEHL FRAZIER: It's pretty cool to get the letters. Like my first ones from Miami and like Notre Dame, those are like some of my favorite just 'cause they're probably the top schools.
ROBIN BEACH: Cincinnati, I forgot that Cincinnati had offered him a scholarship until just now when I saw this.
Robin Beach, Kiehls's stepfather, has helped raise Kiehl since he was a baby.
ROBIN BEACH: Kiehl has been blessed with the natural God-given gifts and ability to not only play the game on the field, but to know how to handle the game off the field also. So we've just coached him here and there, you know, just as any parent would, but he's really taken the ball and ran with it himself. I'm really proud.
The question of where Kiehl would go to college received furious attention across the state. Most people hoped he would become an Arkansas Razorback.
But another southern football powerhouse also had its eyes on Kiehl. Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator at Auburn University in Alabama had been the head coach at Shiloh Christian in the '90s and had been watching Kiehl for years.
Announcer: And the kick is good...Auburn wins!!!
Auburn won the national collegiate football championship this year, and Auburn's quarterback, Cam Newton, won the prestigious Heisman Trophy. He's now waiting to be selected in the NFL draft.
WALT WILLIAMS, Sports promoter: Auburn has a great tradition. They're in the top ten in college football in players in the NFL. And for guys that are Kiehl's caliber, that's important. They want to know that they're going to have the opportunity -- maybe they don't get there -- but they want to at least have a shot to go play on Sunday.
By the spring of his junior year, Kiehl confirmed that he had picked auburn.
Arkansas fans were not happy.
Announcer: The Razorbacks have lost their recruiting battle with Auburn for the services of five-star quarterback Kiehl Frazier...
KIEHL FRAZIER: Somebody from Arkansas told me to die after I committed to Auburn. But then he apologized.
PRODUCER: And where did he say this?
KIEHL FRAZIER: On Facebook. Yeah, he was pretty mad.
PRODUCER: What did he actually write?
KIEHL FRAZIER: I don't know, it was a long time ago. I just remember he told me to die.
This fall, Kiehl will be vying for the spot of starting quarterback on the country's best college team.
Kiehl Frazier at signing ceremony: And first I'd like to thank God and my parents, because without them I wouldn't be here. I'd like to thank my coaches and my teammates for just being there with me. Thank you guys.
DALLAS JACKSON, Senior Analyst RivalsHigh: Kiehl is still 17, 18 years old and you wonder how much of this public life is really Kiehl Frazier, and how much is Kiehl Frazier take one. To put those kinds of pressures on somebody at that young age may be unfair, but it's not going to change. The media is going to want to talk to the Kiehl Fraziers of the world. Next year there's going to be another Kiehl Frazier.