FOOTBALL: The joy of Jalen Frye, Bemidji State’s top back and now much more
Jalen Frye owns an infectious smile that lights up the BSU campus. He wields a spirited attitude that extends far beyond the football sidelines. And he holds a hope that has outlasted injury.
BEMIDJI — Jalen Frye was a football player. And then he lost football.
“It was really challenging to recognize that I have value outside of football,” said Frye, a junior running back on the Bemidji State football team.
Frye ruptured his Achilles tendon in the early summer months of 2021. As the Beavers enjoyed a record-setting fall, Frye was stuck rehabbing. And that meant even more waiting since the 2020 season was canceled because of COVID-19.
If not for friends and family, Frye might have lost his way.
“They always remind me that I bring something other than just football to life if I help others in other ways,” Frye said. “Continuing to reinforce that and trying to be a better man through that whole experience is how I found value.”
He owns an infectious smile that lights up the BSU campus. He wields a spirited attitude that extends far beyond the football sidelines. And he holds a hope that has outlasted injury.
“I’m grateful that I still had the opportunity to recover and play again,” Frye said. “I took all the steps seriously. All the steps were important, all the emotions I felt were important. I just didn’t give up.”
Frye returned to the gridiron with his teammates on March 16, the first day of Bemidji State’s spring practices. It’s surely a boost for the Beavers, who watched the All-American rush for 148.6 yards per game in 2019 (ranking fifth in the nation) and rise into the top back in the NSIC.
But for now, Frye’s just a kid in a candy store. That feeling reached full force when he walked onto the field for his first practice.
“I take it like the first day of ever playing, like back in middle school,” he said. “Just remembering that same excitement you had from the very, very first day, that’s what did it for me. It’s like, ‘I’m a kid again.’”
Fans may not have spotted Frye on the field in 2021, but the Mahtomedi native was still hard to miss. He’s been a consistent presence at BSU sporting events -- whether pitching in behind the scenes or cheering on from the sidelines -- and flashes a constant smile.
He’s a fan favorite, too, which is never more apparent than when he breaks out the floor mop at Bemidji State basketball games. Whenever the pep band is present, they cheer him on with hearty applause as he sweeps the floor -- much to the merriment of Frye.
“I’ve really seen the growth of Bemidji State as a whole school,” Frye said. “It’s exciting to see the labor of your work. … I’m trying to live in it. Just enjoy it all.”
‘I want a playoff run’
Frye and the Beavers will suit up for the annual Green and White spring game on April 16, which is the program’s first live action since winning the NSIC championship and playing in its first-ever NCAA Tournament last fall.
Frye wasn’t in uniform for that run. Instead, running backs Sage Booker and Makaio Harn filled the void as a serviceable 1-2 punch. But Harn has since transferred to Division III’s Wisconsin-Whitewater, turning a would-be crowded backfield into a crystal-clear area of strength for BSU with Frye and Booker.
“I want a playoff run, quite honestly,” said Frye. “I had a great year stats-wise (in 2019), but I really don’t care about the statline as long as we get another playoff run and another conference championship.
“I’m still in it for the team. Yeah, I think my personal accomplishments will come, but it’s team first.”
Frye donned No. 1 for the 2019 and 2020 seasons, but Booker assumed the mantle in 2021 with Frye using a medical redshirt. Through a laugh, Frye said it didn’t take too much convincing to get his number back from Booker for this fall.
“It was great for (Booker) to rock that, feel that energy and to honor what the legend is. If you wear 1, you go out with all your heart and play hard,” Frye said. “He gave it up pretty freely. Sage is a down-to-earth guy. He understands the bigger picture behind football. It didn’t take too much convincing of him, which I think is really cool. That’s a show of his maturity.
“We’re still brothers outside of football. I’m going to keep showing him the respect that he shows me.”
Even something simple like getting his number back is all part of the process of Frye’s resurgence. He’s still got five months until the season opener, which can’t come soon enough, but there’s joy to be found in every step.
Perhaps more than anybody, Jalen Frye is focused on the fun.
“I would feel hopeless or helpless at some points. I had to get over that early because this is a tough injury to come back from,” Frye said of his recovery. “It’s a really long process. My family had to remind me a lot that it’s OK to sit down and really use the help that’s available. … I’m grateful for the experience.”