Virginia's Ian Frye battles through father's in-game heart attack to have career day


Mark Frye makes sure his rental cars come with unlimited miles. His son Ian's football games are not always all that close to their Bristol, Virginia, home, but Mark hadn't missed a single kick. So when Ian, the place-kicker for Virginia, connected on three first-half field goals at BYU -- a quarter-tank short of 2,000 miles from home -- Mark and wife Dana were in the stadium.

"It's not that I need to be there," Mark said by telephone Tuesday, "it's I enjoy being there."

But Ian didn't need to be there with his dad at halftime, Mark felt. Anything Ian would hear from his dad would be something he has already heard and probably more than once. There was no need for closure, because Mark and Ian have had it all their lives.

"There's nothing unsaid between me and my son. We know how we feel about each other," Mark said. "So, I didn't think it was necessary for him to be there if I was going to die."

The timing could not have been worse the afternoon of Sept. 20, a day that began blissfully for the Fryes. As Ian, already 2-for-2 kicking, lined up for a field goal to end the second quarter, Mark began feeling pain in his chest. Squared away in the corner of the stadium's upper bowl directly in the sun, he wondered if it was simply the elements. Doctors took Mark, who had his first heart attack 14 months ago, off a post-attack blood thinner just recently, but he took a doctor-prescribed nitrate at the game to treat his angina. He had never needed to take one before, and the pain intensified, forcing him to hastily leave his seat and seek paramedics.

Dana sprinted from the bleachers toward the field where Ian was walking off. Mark was having a second heart attack.

Mark would miss Ian kick for the first time in his life.

"He was bummed," Ian said Tuesday by telephone.

As Ian walked off the field, he saw his dad, still conscious, collapsed on the ground as paramedics attended him. Emergency workers assured the family Mark would survive, but human nature and fear played devil's advocate. For Ian, this was the man who suggested place-kicking to Ian as a means to ease his transition to public school. This was the man who, when he realized how strong his 150-pound, mohawked teenage son's leg was, ordered instructional videos on technique. ("Don't remember them being great help," Mark said.) And this was the man who splits time on his smart phone watching kicking highlights and offering advice and support to Ian.

Now this was the man ushering him back to the field to be with his teammates.

"I was distressed. My mom mentioned he was having heart pains, and I had an off feeling something was wrong when I saw him," Ian said. "He looked the same way when he had his first heart attack."

That came in 2013 near the peak of Whitetop Mountain the day before fall camp began at Virginia. Ian had to carry Mark 300 yards to the car and then drive an hour down Virginia's second-tallest mountain.

This time it came during the middle of a pivotal game, and the Cavaliers led 16-13 at halftime on the strength of Frye's accuracy.

"My dad and mother both said I need to be with the team, needed to be there for them and perform. [The paramedics] assured me enough," Ian said. "So, I told myself I needed to be there and stay focused. Coach came over and I told him I was [ready]. I had a job to do."

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Ian took aim at a 46-yard field goal. If he converted, it would cut BYU's lead to a single score and offer hope for a season-altering comeback for Virginia.

At the same time, Mark, who passed a stress test earlier this year, was in surgery to clean two stents from the first heart attack.

"You always complain about having to wait two hours in the emergency room," said Mark, who added doctors still aren't sure what is causing his issues. "Well, it's not much fun to have them roll you right through the door and have three doctors and five techs hook you to a machine and stab you with their needles. Your mind doesn't want to accept that reality."

Ian didn't fully know what was going on with his father despite the best efforts of Virginia staffers keeping him up to date. So when he lined up for one of the longest kicks of his college career, he couldn't clear his mind and focus on his three queues: find the right spot, align and foot placement. There wasn't any of that for this kick, just the thought of making his father proud.

Ian made it, but it was just the second kick Mark missed. Ian was 4 of 4, the first time he's made four field goals in a college game.

"The first thing he told me when I came in to the hospital was 'It's the first two kicks he's ever missed,'" Ian said.

Mark was back home in Virginia five days after the heart attack. A week later he was back in the stands, watching Ian kick against Kent State.

"He was happy the team did well," Ian said, "and I didn't have to kick any [pressure] field goals, so he wasn't stressed."

"I'm happy to be here," Mark said, "and see every game I can."