He was just a short, skinny 14-year-old who had not yet begun his freshman year at Plainedge High School in the summer of 2010, but Nick Frenger was about to grow up in a hurry.
The Red Devils were without a quarterback, and a reluctant coach was forced to give him a shot.
"The kid we thought would be our starting quarterback transferred to St. Anthony's and we had a seven-on-seven competition coming up at MacArthur," Plainedge coach Rob Shaver recalled, smiling and shaking his head at the wonder of it all. "We had two seniors who weren't doing well and we had no one else. We had to play him. So he comes out and lit the place up."
From such humble beginnings has emerged one of the shining lights among passers in Long Island history.
Frenger, who has started every game in the last four seasons except for three he missed with a knee injury, according to Shaver, is ranked fourth on Long Island in career yardage with 5,338 and fifth in career touchdown passes with 56. A model of precision, he has completedmore than 60 percent of passes for 937 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.
He passed for 201 yards and four touchdowns yesterday in the Red Devils' 41-18 victory over Glen Cove. Plainedge faces Hewlett in the first round of the playoffs next weekend.
Shaver, in his 17th season at Plainedge, said before Frenger, he'd never had a freshman on the varsity and had some qualms. "I told his mother that there are things that go on with being a ninth-grader around a bunch of seniors," Shaver said. " 'I don't know if you want him hanging out with seniors at 10 o'clock on a Friday night.' Then I sat Nick down and I said, 'You're not allowed to go out to lunch with them. You can't be doing the things that they do. You're not 18 years old.' After those conversations, his mom said he could come up ."
Still not convinced, Shaver consulted his seniors. "We had a team vote. I said, 'What do you guys think? This ninth-grader is taking over for your friends since kindergarten.' They all said, 'Nick's the best guy. That's who we want.' "
Frenger has rewarded that confidence with a stellar career that he hopes ends in the school's first Long Island championship. The Red Devils served notice that they are legitimate contenders by knocking off defending Long Island champion Lawrence in Week 4, ending the Golden Tornadoes' winning streak at 15 games. "It was more of a confidence-builder for us than an emotional high," Frenger said. "But if we don't win the last game, then it doesn't matter. The season is a failure."
Frenger, 5-8 and 150 pounds, has never stopped learning. He improved his completion percentage from 47 as a freshman to about 64 percent the past two seasons. He reduced his interceptions from a high of 10 as a sophomore to four in 2012 and three this season.
"I was really raw, especially my mechanics and knowledge of the game," Frenger said. "Going into my sophomore year, I worked on my footwork and form. Going into my junior year, I concentrated on protecting the ball and not throwing as many interceptions."
Added size and strength has made him a running threat, as he has rushed for more than 100 yards each of the last two weeks. As always, he is fanatical about preparation -- in the weight room and in the film room -- which mirrors his NFL idol.
"Ever since I was in the fifth grade, Peyton Manning was always my favorite," Frenger said. "I liked watching him on TV. Then I started reading about him and hearing about him. How much he watches film. How he's always prepared. How he always does the right things. You never hear anything bad about him. That's something I try to emulate."
Shaver said Frenger's "accuracy is his best attribute." He also said, "He's a tremendous competitor. Everything we do, he wants to win. He is the team leader. He's an all-everything guy."
Frenger has gone from the freshman to, simply, the man.