This excerpt from “100 Things South Carolina Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Josh Kendall is printed with the permission of Triumph Books.
For more information, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/ 100ThingsSouthCarolina
Hundreds of players have worn South Carolina’s garnet and black jerseys since the organization first fielded a team in 1892, but none have ever felt the spotlight like Tim Frisby.
In fact, no college football player in the country was more famous in the fall of 2004 than “Pops.”
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Frisby, a 20-year army veteran, walked onto the Gamecocks’ football team that year at the age of 39 and, after a month of obscurity, became a national talking point. At the height of his fame, South Carolina received more than 100 media requests for an interview.
Frisby appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America and almost every sports broadcast in the country.
“It’s not something I sought out,” Frisby told The State newspaper. “I thought I could come in here and try out and, if I was capable of playing, play. Really my first three or four weeks in the program where I was unnoticed, that was great. I just wanted to play.”
He first did on Sept. 25, 2004, when he played the final four plays of a 17–7 win over Troy during Lou Holtz’s final season as head coach.
“I have a lot of respect for the guy,” Holtz told The State. “A Ranger, 20 years in the Army, six kids. He loves this team. I thought it would be good to get him in. I’m sorry we could not throw it to him.”
There was little not to love about Frisby’s story. A native of Allentown, Pa., he bypassed a scholarship offer from Tennessee State out of high school to join the Army.
“I said I’d do a three-year tour, and it turned into 20,” Frisby told Leno.
Along the way, he participated in Ranger training, served during the Gulf War, and had six children with his wife, Anna. When he left the Army, Frisby returned to Columbia where he had served at Fort Jackson from 1984–88, enrolled at USC and joined dozens of other students during walk-on tryouts for the 2004 team.
Frisby faced NCAA hurdles on the way to the field. His high school days came before the NCAA Clearinghouse was formed to certify the eligibility of all college athletes, and the resulting confusion made him ineligible for the first three games of his career.
“Tim is certainly not the typical college football player,” NCAA spokesman Erik Christianson told The State at the time.
“People take different paths in life, and now he has this opportunity in front of him, and we were happy to help him with his request.”
Frisby received an ovation from his teammates at practice the day he was ruled eligible.
“It’s an amazing story, and he’s got a marvelous attitude. He comes out, and he works,” Holtz told The State. “He really does some nice things. He’s not out of place out there for a 39-year-old.”
Throughout his two years at the school, Frisby emphasized that he came to school to be a football player, not a sideshow. “I didn’t want to be one of these guys talking about it. ‘Hey, this guy’s no good. I could be out there playing,’” he told The State. “Until you’re out there doing it, then you’ll see how good these guys are or how good you are. You have to measure yourself against it. I didn’t come into it just to take one shot at it and leave it alone. If I’m here, I want to compete and play and try earning the (playing) time. I’m not just out here to gain a story.”
Being 20 years older than his teammates did present challenges, he acknowledged along the way.
“I’m up on the line of scrimmage (at practice) and the cornerback will say, ‘I’m going to get a drink, I’ll catch up with you,’” Frisby told Leno.
Frisby, who got his “Pops” nickname from wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill, caught the only pass of his career in 2005 when he hauled in a 9-yard reception in a 45–20 win over Troy in Steve Spurrier’s first season as coach.
Frisby left the Gamecocks after the 2005 season with two years of eligibility remaining, and he looked into selling his story for a Hollywood movie.
“Pops is a good walk-on player who contributes a lot,” Spurrier told The State. “He’s been a wonderful guy, does everything. He’s been a good teammate of all the guys.”
Frisby returned to Columbia in 2007 and graduated with honors.
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