ARKADELPHIA - Kiehl Frazier had grown accustomed to 87,000-plus football fans in attendance and a large eagle that flew over the stadium during his first three seasons of college football.
At A Glance
School: Ouachita Baptist
Hometown: West Fork
Notable: Signed with Auburn after he threw for 2,975 yards and 42 touchdowns and ran for another 1,164 yards and 22 touchdowns in his senior season at Shiloh Christian. … Played quarterback his freshman and sophomore years at Auburn, where he threw for 787 yards, ran for 386 yards and combined for 22 touchdowns, but he was pulled from the starting role after a 24-7 loss to Arkansas. … Started his junior season at Auburn as a safety, but was later moved to receiver. … Transferred to Ouachita in January because he wanted to play quarterback again.
There wasn't anything like that when the former Shiloh Christian standout hit the field to start his senior season. Instead, the announced attendance at the new Cliff Harris Stadium that Saturday night was 2,580, and the only thing that circled the stands was the smoke from a nearby tailgate party held just yards from the stadium.
Ouachita Baptist is not Auburn, but Frazier is happy to be here and be the Tigers' starting quarterback -- a position that slipped out of his grasp midway through his sophomore season. Frazier battled the following spring to regain the starting role, but Gus Malzahn, the former Shiloh Christian coach who recruited Frazier to Auburn, named Nick Marshall the starter.
"It's a lot different, but I liked it," Frazier said. "We opened the new stadium, and that was a cool thing to do. We met (former Dallas Cowboy) Cliff Harris, and the stands were packed, which was something we never really expected.
"It was a good atmosphere, and it was a lot of fun. It really feels like home now because my family lives so close to here and my brother already goes here. I feel more comfortable here than I ever really felt at Auburn."
Frazier's debut at Ouachita was a productive one as he led the Tigers to a 28-7 victory in their season opener against Great American Conference opponent Southern Nazarene. Even though he gave himself a "4 out of 10" for his performance, he completed 19-of-30 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns and ran 11 times for 46 yards.
Ouachita had already built a 28-0 lead when Frazier hurdled a Crimson Storm defender en route to a seven-yard gain on a third-and-5 play midway through the fourth quarter. That was enough for Tigers coach Todd Knight, who then replaced Frazier with Lucas Reed for the remainder of the game.
"Kiehl is going to be fine," Knight said. "You probably saw enough of him to know he's really talented, and he's a good scrambler. The more he plays, the better he's going to get."
Auburn To Arkadelphia
Frazier made his decision to transfer from Auburn in January, just days after he watched the game from the sideline as the Tigers lost to Florida State in the BCS National Championship game. He simply wanted the opportunity to play quarterback again, and Ouachita was the logical place for him to go.
Not only is his brother, Jed Beach, an offensive lineman there, but his former coach at Shiloh Christian, Josh Floyd, also played at Ouachita. In addition to that, the Tigers' most recent starters at that position -- Lance Parker, Eli Cranor, Casey Cooper and Vincent Jordan -- all were transfers from FBS or FCS schools.
So he made the move, and Knight didn't have to wonder about what kind of player he was about to get. In fact, Frazier was an ideal fit into Ouachita's offensive plans because of his ability to run with the football as well as throw.
"We recruited him out of high school, and he came to every camp we've had," Knight said. "Coach Floyd played here and brought all of his players here and Jed was here, so we've known him for a long time.
"But the thing I was most impressed about Kiehl when he got here was he didn't come in here talking about Auburn. He came in here wanting to be an Ouachita Tiger. From a leadership standpoint, I thought that was big because it could have been easy for him to throw his weight around a little bit. That was good."
The biggest difference Frazier had to learn during spring workouts was the terminology and the signals used to call plays by Ouachita's coaching staff because the Tigers' offensive scheme is similar to what Auburn uses. Knight was thrilled about the progression Frazier made through the spring workouts, then Frazier aided his cause when he committed to staying in the area during the summer months and working on his passing.
While the football wasn't much different between Ouachita and Auburn, life around the Arkadelphia campus was. That was where Frazier had to make a big adjustment.
"For about two months, I was pretty uncomfortable here," he said. "It's so much different because it's a Christian school. There are only about 1,500 students here, where at Auburn there's -- I don't know -- about 30,000 students.
"There was like a little 'getting used to' period. But after that, it really started feeling like home and I became comfortable here."
Frazier admitted there were butterflies in his stomach when he took the field for the first time with his new teammates. It was his first game as a starting quarterback since midway through his sophomore season at Auburn, and it didn't help his anxiety that it was also Ouachita's first game in its newly named stadium.
Harris, a former standout at Ouachita and later with the Dallas Cowboys, was on hand for the pregame celebration. That included a speech by Harris, and he was surrounded by a cast that included former Dallas teammates Lee Roy Jordan and Charlie Waters.
"I think there was a little bit of pressure on him: to come in here and be the starter, and with the other stuff going on," Knight said.
Southern Nazarene actually did Frazier a favor when it won the coin toss and deferred its decision until the second half. Ouachita received the ball first -- something Knight wanted since the Tigers have nine returning starters on offense -- and that allowed Frazier to get into the groove easier.
He and Jalen Jones, a senior receiver from Conway, quickly found a rhythm. Frazier was a perfect 6-for-6 in the first quarter, and all of them went to Jones, including an 11-yard touchdown strike for Ouachita's first score.
"It was a lot of fun out there," Frazier said. "We had a really clean drive, and we went right down there and scored. It gave us some momentum, so that was good."
The rust begin didn't show until the second quarter, when Frazier tried to run and had the ball knocked out of his hands for a fumble inside the Southern Nazarene 15. He came back to throw a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marks minutes later, but he had another pass attempt tipped and intercepted by Matthew Gregg.
Frazier, however, redeemed himself moments after the interception took place as he recalled his days as a free safety, both at Shiloh Christian and briefly at Auburn. He delivered a hit on Gregg inside the Ouachita 10 and caused the ball to pop loose, then Javin Prunty recovered the ball to give it back to the Tigers' offense.
"No doubt about it: he went and stroked the kid," Knight said. "He's an athlete, and he didn't quit there a bit, did he? He put his face down and went and got him. That was impressive."
Now with a game under his belt, Frazier has one simple goal in mind for himself and his new team -- to improve each and every week. He really never threw a deep pass against Southern Nazarene, but he said that will come in time as he continues to progress through the season.
"I just want to go out and get better every day," Frazier said. "You can tell by today, we still need to progress to where we need to be. That's the only goal I have right now -- to get better."
Sports on 09/21/2014
Print Headline: Frazier Now Comfortable At Ouachita