It’s easy to forget, but Marcell Frazier was Missouri’s starting defensive end opposite Charles Harris coming out of fall camp last season.
It’s a role for which he wasn’t ready.
Frazier arrived in Columbia last summer on July 9. He had spent several months feverishly devoted to the classroom, trying to finish his associate’s degree at the College of the Siskiyous in Weed, Calif., in order to enroll at Mizzou.
Of course, that academic dedication meant Frazier didn’t spend time in the weight room.
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When the Tigers’ first game rolled around, Frazier knew his body wouldn’t hold up against the rigors of the Southeastern Conference.
“The weight room wasn’t my priority last spring and summer, and I felt it big time,” he said. “By the time camp was over, I felt like I’d already gone through a whole season.”
Frazier eventually was passed on the depth chart by then-redshirt freshman Walter Brady, who went on to earn Freshman All-American honors and tied Harris for the team lead with seven sacks.
The struggles went even deeper for Frazier, who finished with 18 tackles, including six for a loss, along with two sacks, four hurries and a forced fumble.
Adjusting to a new team and new culture in a new town some 2,000 miles from where he grew up in Portland, Ore., also proved challenging for Frazier.
“I didn’t know anybody last year and didn’t have any chemistry,” he said.
Frazier also wasn’t comfortable with the playbook, admitting he sometimes had no clue about his assignment.
But Mizzou is home now, and Frazier, a junior, is considerably more settled as he once again aims to lock down the starting spot opposite Harris.
After Brady was dismissed from the Tigers on Aug. 3, Frazier’s pursuit of the starting job went from an intriguing camp battle to a necessity for a defense that hopes to repeat last season’s dominance.
“It does put a lot more pressure on Marcell, but fortunately he’s an amazing player,” Harris said. “I would not be surprised if he challenges me for sacks this year. He’s going to really make a name for himself.”
It’s a testament to the depth of Missouri’s defenisve line that losing Brady and Harold Brantley hasn’t diminished expectations. But Frazier, who played roughly 40 percent of the defensive snaps last season, isn’t surprised.
“I’ve been preparing like I was the starter anyway,” Frazier said. “Obviously, nobody thought it would come to this, but I’m ready.”
Frazier turned heads with a strong spring.
“Spring was amazing for me,” he said. “It was a fresh start, and I feel like I took advantage of it.”
Teammates noticed the difference in Frazier, who has dropped his body fat 8 percent and feels stronger with more stamina.
“His confidence is definitely on the rise, and it should be,” Harris said. “He’s playing at an extremely high level. With him knowing he has to start now, his play has gone up tremendously.”
Frazier also has made a positive impression on new Tigers defensive line coach Jackie Shipp, who came from Arizona State.
“One thing I know is that he can run,” Shipp said. “He loves to play and has great passion for the game. … He’s a heck of a pass-rusher, and he’s getting a lot better playing the run. To me, from spring to right now, he’s made leaps and bounds.”
Enough so that he’ll be able to take some pressure off Harris?
“Yes, he can,” Shipp said. “But Charles is still going to get a lot of attention.”
That could portend great things for Frazier, who spent a lot of time this summer working with former Mizzou star Shane Ray when Ray, the 2015 Broncos’ first-round pick and Super Bowl champion visited Columbia.
Frazier picked up pointers that Ray had learned from veteran NFL pass-rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller during Ray’s rookie season in Denver.
Frazier is committed to putting it all together and carrying on the proud tradition of “D-Line Zou.”
“If I know my assignment and explode off the ball, I think my technique and athleticism will get me there,” Frazier said. “I really had no technique last year and played just off athleticism basically. It didn’t take me very far. Hopefully, I don’t disappoint.”