Sun, Sep 26, 2004 - Page 24 News List

At 39, Tim Frisby decides to give it the old college try

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA

The strip of tape bearing his new nickname appeared over Tim Frisby's locker one afternoon during summer drills. Frisby left it there and allowed himself to be the object of ribbing during two-a-day football practices.

The nickname is Pops.

Frisby is a 39-year-old father of six, and he is back playing a young man's game. The NCAA announced this week that Frisby, a 20-year Army veteran who had served with the 82nd Airborne Division, was eligible to play football for South Carolina. He will be part of the Gamecocks' 105-man squad dressing for tonight's home game against Troy.

"It's a dream come true," Frisby said in a telephone interview. "I've wanted to do this for so long."

Frisby is a 6-foot-1, 188-pound wide receiver who is exempt from NCAA age rules because of his military service. The NCAA said it did not keep the type of data that would have allowed it to determine if Frisby was the oldest player to participate in Division I football.

He may not be the oldest player, but he may as well forget his given name. Pops has stuck. Lou Holtz, South Carolina's 67-year-old coach, said he wanted to keep Frisby on the team as a walk-on because Frisby's family, which has children 6 months old to 16, could boost attendance at home games.

At first, Frisby's teammates refused to believe he was 39. Trim and fit, he looks younger than his age, and for several weeks he made his way around the locker room and practice field without question.

But the Gamecocks started hearing from members of the news media that Frisby was almost 40, so several players surrounded him one day at his locker. He pulled out his driver's license to prove his age.

"They still didn't believe me," Frisby said. "They kept saying, `That can't be right."'

Frisby has become the marvel of the program. When Holtz told the team during its pre-practice stretch on Thursday that the NCAA had cleared Frisby to play, his teammates broke into applause. A university spokesman said interview requests, including one from a movie studio, had flooded the sports media relations office since the NCAA announcement late Thursday afternoon.

Frisby is aware that he is a curiosity, but that is not what he wants out of football. Mascots are for the sidelines, and he is not sweating in practice to be a symbol of fortitude for the South Carolina program.

"I'm competing for playing time out there," Frisby said. "The last thing I want to be is a novelty. I want to contribute."

Frisby's talent as a wide receiver is routine, not spectacular. Most of South Carolina's younger receivers -- the oldest is 21 -- run the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds to his 4.6, so he understands that he will have to build a reputation as a possession receiver if he wants to play.

That means he will have to run into the middle of the field to catch 6-yard passes and throw his body around as a blocker -- not that daunting for a man who has dropped out of aircraft into desolate forests as part of his survival training as a Ranger. Frisby played wide receiver as a junior at Allentown (Pennsylvania) Central Catholic before transferring to a different high school for his senior season to play basketball. He was recruited in basketball by Tennessee State, but he decided to enter the Army.

Frisby, who played football overseas for military teams, rose to the rank of sergeant first class before his retirement. He has four years of athletic eligibility, although he is a junior academically.

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