EJ Frain plays cornerback for the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks, a professional football team in the American Indoor Football League (AIF). During the 2016 season, Frain recorded two interceptions and six pass breakups in just five games, and earned a Player of the Game honor. The Steelhawks, boasting a 7-2 record, are entering the AIF playoffs as the 3rd seed in the Northern Division.
EJ (26) discusses his 10-year journey with football and how it has led to a crucial spiritual transformation.
Q. How did you get into football?
A. Believe it or not, I didn’t start playing until I was a junior in high school, which is very late. Before that, I would play “street football” with my friends and I was just naturally talented at it. One of my friends used to tell me that he was going to force me to play. [Laughs] So the next season I showed up to the first meeting, fell in love with it, and just built off of that.
Q. Describe your journey from then until now.
A. My journey has been a rollercoaster to say the least. I ended up going to 5 different colleges chasing the best opportunity.
My senior year [of high school] I was very good, but I didn’t have the stats or the film that I needed to get a Division I scholarship even though my coaches thought that I was talented enough.
I ended up going to county college just as a student, but I missed football. So ever since then, which was September 2008, I made up my mind to do something every single day to get better at football. Whether it’s training, taking care of my body, stretching, abs, strength training, speed training, running hills, etc., I’ve continued to grow.
I almost got drafted [to the NFL] out of college but I don’t think I was ready. It used to be a dream, but it doesn’t feel like a dream anymore. I feel like my big break is coming and I’m this close.
Q. What challenges did you face along the way?
A. After county college, I played my freshman year at Globe Institute of Technology in New York . I played wide receiver and I was probably the most productive player on the team. Then I had surgery on my elbow, so for the spring semester I went back home to rehab. Then I kind of got into it with the coach, so he didn’t want me back the following season.
So I had to come up with a Plan B in a hurry. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I went to junior college in Los Angeles (LA Pierce College) and it was one of the top ranked football programs in the country. But I didn’t make a certain payment at Globe so I was ineligible at Pierce. I sat out that year, but then ended up tearing my pectoral muscle so then I had to rehab that. The following season I came back and played very well, but I had one less year on my eligibility clock.
I decided to take a Division II offer to Abilene Christian University in Texas. But I signed before the defensive coordinator was hired and my style of play clashed drastically with his style of coaching. We parted ways after I played sparingly my junior year. Your junior year is pretty significant, so that was another fork in the road.
Then, I made a choice to play at this school in Canada called Simon Frasier, which was kind of a brave move. I played very well up there and had a couple of looks from the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks, but I never got an invitation [to their training camps]. So now I’m playing in these arena football leagues to earn my shot.
It’s literally like I was supposed to fail so many times. Most people would’ve given up a long time ago.
Q. What would you say was your darkest moment? Was there ever a point when you thought you would actually “pack it in?”
A. That never really crossed my mind, but there were some dark times. I’ve had numerous injuries, 13 of which I had to miss playing time over. You name it, I’ve hurt it. I’ve had two surgeries and countless physical therapy encounters. After I had surgery on my elbow, I had to go through grueling therapy for about 5 months after being in a sling and a cast for 2 months.
Exactly one year later, I had surgery on my torn pectoral muscle, and that surgery and physical therapy process was even worse than the previous year. I remember my mother was in the recovery room with me and I told her, “If something else happens and I have to get surgery again, I’m done playing. I don’t want to have to go through this again.”
Q. What motivates you?
A. There are so many things. I feel like God chose me to go through this journey because He knew I wouldn’t quit. I don’t feel like God blessed me with talent. I feel like he blessed me with intestinal fortitude. He gave me incredible will. My motivator is just that I’ve set a goal. If I have to, I’ll wake up at ridiculous hours every day to chase that goal.
Also, one of my friends got signed to the New Orleans Saints and he’s been someone I’ve emulated. I kind of always use him as someone to look up to. Another thing is, my brother is in a very difficult and stressful situation, and has two young kids. I made a little promise to myself that if and when I do get to where I want to be, I’ll use the financial benefits to help him out.
Q. Do you feel like your journey with football has contributed to your growth in faith?
A. Contributed, no. I would have to say it’s pretty much responsible for my growth in faith. I really believe that I wouldn’t be the man that I am today, if I wouldn’t have gone through everything I’ve been through.
Like I said, coming out of college, I was a very good player. I had two NFL teams talking to my agent, but I never got an invitation. I’ve come to believe that I didn’t get that invitation because I wasn’t mature enough to handle what was going to be presented to me. So God wouldn’t bless me at that time. I had to reevaluate myself.
I finally realized that I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I wanted to be rich. I wanted to go to strip clubs. I wanted to be young and dumb. But I realized that God is not going to bless me for those reasons. I realized that I can use my football journey to be an inspiration, but I need to give God all the credit.
At that time, I started going to church. I read the Bible from cover to cover. No matter what time it was, I would wake up at like 3AM and read whatever amount of pages I promised to read. I got this “Word for the Day” devotional and I’ve read it every single day for the past two and half years.
Q. What do you feel like your purpose is as an athlete and as a person?
A. To spread God’s kingdom. I’m into personal training, so I want to have my own training facility where I can give back to the youth, not only athletically and physically, but also mentally and spiritually. I want to instill an aspect of manhood, and help develop young men and women.
I want to use all the experience I’ve gotten from my crazy endeavors to help other people. I always used to think, “I wish I would’ve done this. I wish I would’ve done that.” I just learned things so late. I want to give kids a head start using all the knowledge I’ve gathered on my journey.
I also plan (and have already started) to write a book about my experience in order to inspire people and show them that anything is possible. I’ve been at many “bottoms” and have gotten out of those holes. I want to show people that you can become whatever you want to be if you’re willing to die for what you believe, and if you’re willing to persevere with an incredible work ethic and gargantuan faith.
Q. What is your favorite part of playing football?
A. Getting an interception, returning it for a touchdown, and then pointing to the sky.