Playing soccer since before he could read or write, Brian Frame is finally hanging up the cleats. Or, to put it in goalkeeper terms, folding up the gloves.
From the age of 4 until now – his senior year as a member of the Massachusetts men’s soccer team – the game has been an integral part of Frame’s growing experience. But with the season ending last weekend and graduation one semester away, academics are all that will be occupying his time for the remainder of his days in Amherst.
“To walk away from playing at a really competitive level, it’s hard. … I think I’m really going to miss it,” he said in an interview prior to the season’s end.
Though he played for 10 years before entering high school, he wasn’t extremely serious about soccer, until he switched from midfield to goal in his freshman year in 2005.
“When I got to high school I found I was much too slow, so that’s why I switched to goalie,” Frame said. “I probably shouldn’t have even made the freshman team.”
He barely made the team as the third-string goalkeeper.
“I wasn’t very good, but I worked as hard as I possibly could in every practice session,” Frame said.
Following his freshman year Frame began to soar – not just figuratively, but literally. He grew about six inches his sophomore year, topping out at 6-foot-5. The transition was awkward at first, but he grew into the position comfortably, eventually making varsity. He finished his high school career with a few bangs, making two All-State teams, winning two state championships at the Salesianum School in Wilmington, Del., and posting 14 shutouts in his senior campaign.
But the spotlight flickered out for Frame after that. One of four seniors on this year’s squad, it was Brian’s first season as a consistent starter; finally taking the helm after three patient years sitting on the bench. He was primarily riding along in the shadows behind former netminders Shane Curran-Hays and Chris Piekos.
In fact, after seeing him on the pitch for one season, UMass coach Sam Koch wasn’t even sure he would see Frame returning to the team the following fall.
“In all honesty after his freshman year we weren’t sure if he was going to come back,” Koch said. “We talked to him and said, ‘For you to have a chance, you gotta get fitter and you gotta work harder and train. His freshman year he would let shots go – just wouldn’t try for them.”
One of the main reasons Frame decided to come up to UMass was because of his appreciation of Koch and his brutal honesty.
“Unlike the other coaches (that were recruiting me) he wasn’t blowing smoke,” Frame said regarding his first phone call with Koch in January 2008. “The second thing he decided to tell me was that they practice in the winter … outside. They literally plow off McGuirk and we’re out there in February at 6 a.m.”
After Koch’s eye-opening talk with Frame following his freshman year, he turned on a switch over the summer.
“He came back and was unbelievable,” Koch recalled.
But he still would have to play the backup role for nearly two more years, although he was satisfied with it.
“Shane and Chris were fantastic people to work with, so it was actually really positive that I had those first (few) years to sit and watch those guys,” Frame said. “I think I did start to get a little comfortable towards the end of high school and coming into the college game is so much faster and physical, so I had to adjust, and they helped.”
Frame earned two starts his junior year in which he made six saves, but gave up five goals. Going into this season, he felt like the starting position would be a tossup.
“There were four or five goalies that came in for preseason this year, so I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I just wanted to come in and work hard like I had for the other three years and hope that I got the starting job.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
Frame’s first game was against reigning Colonial Athletic Association champion Delaware.
He started the game with his usual routine of watching highlight clips of Peter Schmeichel and of Edwin van der Sar, former members of Manchester United, his favorite Premier League team
“Before games I’ll watch videos of those guys and try to emulate them,” Frame said. ”Obviously, it’s a lot easier said than done. It just gets me mentally focused.”
And focused he was, as he earned a shutout for his first collegiate win against the school that was located 15 minutes from the house he grew up in.
The next game against Vermont: another shutout.
The team got off to a 2-0-1 start, which was a pleasant surprise after finishing last year 4-13-2, but things quickly took a turn for the worst. The Minutemen followed up their early success with a four-game winless streak and finished 5-11-2.
Frame feels that the team’s lack of experience and lack of upperclassmen is what led to the downfall.
“I think it’s tough for four seniors to lift everyone week in and week out, especially after a win because guys are like, ‘Well we’re there, we’ll be able to do this again.’ It’s never that easy. I think that’s one thing that’s tough with this big of a freshmen class,” he said.
The English and political science double major dedicated nearly all of his time to athletics and academics during his time at UMass, maintaining a GPA of over 3.5, which he was rewarded for with a headshot placed on the UMass Scholar Athlete wall in Boyden Gym – the only soccer player currently on the wall.
“I don’t go out a lot,” Frame said. “I try to balance soccer and school and then social is kind of on the side.
“I’ve committed a lot of time into this program, a lot of early mornings, a lot of fitness, a lot of sacrifices, so more than anything, even though I (didn’t) necessarily have the title of being a captain, I (wanted) to take a leadership role because I (wanted) the team to succeed.”
Despite the lack of success in the win-loss column this year, Frame feels that his overall experience at UMass has been life-changing.
“It’s been a maturing experience,” he said. “I’ve had to really step away from a lot of things I was comfortable with. I’ve really gotten a chance to assess my priorities on a day-to-day basis and say, ‘This is what I find important,’ and then going out and making it a reality.”
Currently, Frame is preparing his applications for law school next year – a path that Koch thinks will suit him well.
“He’ll be good, he’s very convincing,” Koch said. “He’ll be a good lawyer all right, but you want him defending you, you never want him attacking you.”
As Frame heads toward a career, possibly defending people in name of the law, his time of defending his team between the posts has come to an abrupt end.
“It’s tough, but I’m really glad that I have everything put together as far as going to law school and have that as a focus,” Frame said. “Otherwise it would be really hard to walk away.”
Taylor Snow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @taylorcsnow.