Though he's played 11 games as a Bearcat, Drew Frey out of Clinton-Massie HS and Wilmington still has about three and a half seasons to go as a member of UC's secondary. For a guy that's in his third year here, it's rare to have three and a half years to go.
But, that's the way it's gone down for Frey. He redshirted in '07, then was injured in game four of last season and given a medical redshirt. So, despite the fact that he'll be 21 in February, this redshirt freshman is actually somewhat of a seasoned veteran.
That experience under Brian Kelly's staff has been dramatically evident this year as Frey has been an integral part of UC's defensive backfield. He's currently third on the team in tackles and has made two key interceptions (including one in the end zone last weekend ruining a would-be Syracuse touchdown drive).
While actually starting one game last season, Frey has been another "unsung hero" in this year's defense featuring 10 "new" starters along with Aaron Webster. What was a question mark at the beginning of the season has now turned to an exclamation point!
"We're getting better on a day-to-day, game-to-game basis," said Frey. "Progressively throughout the season we've improved each game. We've looked at the errors we've had, the mistakes we've had in the previous game and worked to fix that. The critics have been saying we've lost 10 starters on defense and I feel like we're starting to establish teamwork and togetherness."
Whether it is the switch from the 4-3 to the 3-4, or the chip on their shoulders over the lack of experience, UC's defensive unit has answered the bell. As things stand, if the Bearcats can put up three touchdowns that should be enough to win as 20 points (Fresno State) is the most an opponent has scored on the Bearcats.
"You could say (we're) surprised, but we look at it as if you're doing the right things and competing at a high level at practice it just leads into the game," said Frey. "Every year we start out by saying, 'This is a new year, this isn't last year's team, this is a new team, there's new things being brought in, so every year we look at it as a rebuilding year."
The results have been anything but what you'd expect from a rebuilding year. Role players last year are defensive mainstays this year. While there may have been more individual stars on last year's defense (NFL draftees Connor Barwin, DeAngelo Smith, Brandon Underwood and Mike Mickens) you can argue that the '09 "No-namers" are closer.
"The closeness of the guys we have on this team right now is incredible," said Frey. "We're banding together. It's just really nice to see that many people coming together."
Now the task at hand is to take care of business under the prime time lights of ABC against Connecticut Saturday night. While Frey was unfortunately injured for last season's tilt, he is fully aware of how disappointing that game was for the players, coaches and fans.
"That's definitely in the back of our minds," said Frey. "To get handled that easy last year (40-16) is going to sink in our hearts a little bit and is going to be one of the drivers for the game."
That game is actually an oddity as the Brian Kelly era has brought very few disappointments. There was last year's Orange Bowl (but at least they got there) then the back-to-back losses in '07 to Louisville and Pitt. The Oklahoma game last year was a mild disappointment, but you have to factor in that you lost a starting quarterback in that one (Dustin Grutza).
That leaves last year's second-half collapse in Hartford as a game that Coach Kelly and staff will remember as a sour point.
With Frey and the defense making the crucial plays this year, you have to believe there's a good chance that "sour feeling" could turn into something sweet by late Saturday night.