Cincinnati safety Drew Frey made the Big East first team last season, though that may have been hard for him to imagine the way his career began.
Frey came to the Bearcats in 2007, eager to prove himself immediately. But he dislocated his shoulder during his first camp and was forced to redshirt.
No problem. Frey worked as hard as he could to get back into shape and be better than ever. His redshirt freshman season came, and Frey impressed coaches enough during fall camp that he got his shot at some significant playing time early in the year.
That led to his first career start.
And another setback.
Frey broke his arm in the first quarter of that first college start, ending his season yet again.
"That was a big blow," Frey said in a recent phone interview. "But it's not over unless you say it's over. I think those injuries have made me become a better person, a better player. Obviously I got set back. But I needed to take strides not only get to where I was but to keep getting better. It was a good for me."
Because the injury happened early on, Frey was granted a sixth year of eligibility. And the dark moments were only temporary, replaced with even more eagerness to get back onto the field. Now, would you believe that Frey has started 36 games for the Bearcats, among the most of any player returning to the Big East in 2012?
He is coming off his finest season, in which he finished second on the team with a career-high 73 tackles, had two interceptions and eight pass breakups. The way he did it is even more commendable when you consider the full classload he took as an architectural engineering technology major.
Frey had to take two classes for his major that ran through all of his meeting time before practice. So Frey would come in early to meet with his defensive coordinator and position coach, then would have to build in extra time into his already-busy day to watch film.
"I think it was beneficial because I got that one-on-one time," Frey said. "I got to dig into the coaches' minds, and ask, 'Why are we calling this call?' It was good for us in the grand scheme of things but it was difficult."
Frey has become a mainstay in a defensive backfield that has gone through its fair share of ups and downs, but one that has greater expectations headed into the spring game Saturday and the upcoming season.
For one, the group is the most veteran unit returning to the defense. They should be better than they have been the last three years. They also have a new defensive backs coach Shannon Morrison, whom Frey says relates really well with the players.
"As a team and as a defense and defensive backfield, we always strive for greatness," Frey said. "It's that level of competitive greatness, we're striving for that every day. Spring is not about perfection. It's about the details, stressing effort, intensity, swarming to the ball that team sense of getting 11 hats together. From a defensive back perspective, I want to be that guy that gets everybody going."