Time apart helps Frohnapfel twins find themselves


Blake and Eric. Eric and Blake.

Up until the football-playing Frohnapfel twins were 5, Eric, the younger brother by 22 minutes, spoke for both of them. If Blake wanted anything — even a glass of milk — he would tell Eric and Eric would tell their parents.

Blake and Eric. Eric and Blake.

Up until the time the Frohnapfel twins finished their undergraduate degrees at Marshall, they shared a room, an apartment, a car, friends. It was almost like they shared a personality.

Blake and Eric. Eric and Blake.

 Frohnapfel twins in Little League at 11: Eric, left, and Blake. (Photo courtesy of the Frohnapfel family)
Frohnapfel twins in Little League at 11: Eric, left, and Blake. (Photo courtesy of the Frohnapfel family)

Up until Blake left Marshall to pursue a graduate degree at Massachusetts and left Eric behind, the Frohnapfel twins had never spent more than three nights apart.

But now, Eric, who returned to Marshall to finish his MBA after spending the summer with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent, is away from his alter ego. Blake had two years of eligibility remaining after completing his degree at Marshall and, in search of an MBA and a chance to start at quarterback, he is in his second season at Massachusetts in the Mid-American Conference.

“I got a taste of what it (being apart) would be like when Blake went to UMass,” Eric said after practice during minicamp in June. “There’s time to explore, to do things on our own. But we talk almost daily.”

Said Blake: “I think we’re best friends, he’s my brother, I love him, but it’s different now that we’re apart. He’ll send me good plays he made in practice and I’ll do the same. And he’ll call me and say, ‘Hey, I miss you.’ I’m not sure which one of us decided it was time to say that, but we did.”

At 22, the Frohnapfel twins are just beginning to find themselves. They both spent three years as undergrads at Marshall, Blake as a backup quarterback and Eric as a three-year starter at tight end. The plan had been to redshirt their freshman years, get their degrees in three years and then play two more seasons while pursuing graduate degrees. That plan didn’t quite work out after Blake was injured during the twins’ freshman year and Eric landed on the active roster because Marshall had a need for a tight end to back up Gator Hoskins.

By 2012, Blake was healed, but played behind Conference USA MVP Rakeem Cato for his remaining two seasons at Marshall.

In the end, they got two years to play Division I ball together and had a blast. During Blake’s redshirt freshman season in 2012, one of his two touchdowns was to Eric. In 2013, Marshall got to the postseason and played in the Military Bowl.

“Both of them are very, very intelligent young men,” said Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg. “Sometimes, intellect doesn’t transfer to the field. Eric was a great route runner and caught the ball exceptionally well. Blake did a great job deciphering coverages and had a strong arm. But what impressed me the most is that they went to work every single day to be the best they thought they could be.”

Knowing the Frohnapfel family, Legg should not have been surprised. The twins come from a hyper-athletic family. Their oldest sister Emily, 26, played volleyball for two years at Belmont Abbey before getting injured and transferring to Charlotte. She is now a property manager in Charlotte. Sarah, 24, played volleyball at Lafayette, got her graduate degree in athletic administration at Marshall where she was a graduate assistant for the football team, and is now an assistant athletic director at Stetson.

Eric and Blake celebrate after they hooking up on Blake’s first college touchdown. (Photo courtesy of the Frohnapfel family)

Though athletics are a big part of the family, education is really the driver. Dad Steve, who is retired from the FBI, said he and his wife Lynn, a special education teacher, knew when their kids were young that all had a good chance of using athletics to further their educations.

“As soon as they were 2 or 3 and we went to the doctor and they do those calculations (for height) and they told us the girls would be 6-foot-1 and the boys about 6-foot-6, it was pretty obvious. All totaled, it probably saved us $500,000. Their pain was my gain,” he joked.

“But I always counseled them they wouldn’t make a dime off athletics. Of course, when Eric got his first paycheck, he took a photo of it and sent it to me.”

That ribbing and easy-going nature are what the Frohnapfels want the world to see. Behind it, there is an intensity that has allowed Eric and Blake to not only succeed, but excel.

“Organization, time management, work ethic, those things can’t be replaced,” said Legg. “There’s a lot of guys who are outstanding athletes, but because they can’t manage their time, are not self-disciplined and are not organized, it affects them in a negative way. Those two kids are a shining example” of those character traits.

Apart for two years now, the twins have begun to blossom into individuals. As boys and younger men, they shared nearly every experience, but with hundreds of miles between them, their individual personalities are becoming more apparent.

As a unit, Eric was the more social and Blake the more organized.

“It was great seeing them play together,” Steve said. “But (Lynn and I agreed) it was the right time for them to follow their own paths and flesh out their personalities. Apart, Eric has become more organized and he’s better about what’s coming tomorrow. Blake has been forced to come out of his shell. (The decision to leave Marshall) was such a moment of growing into himself, of expressing his manhood.”

The twins see changes in themselves, as well. Blake teases Eric long distance about his newfound passion for fashion — “I don’t know when this happened, but Eric thinks he’s all GQ now, he gels his hair and all of that” — while Eric is finding that he cherishes his twin more from afar.

“It’s like I have a friend with me all the time (even when we’re apart),” said Eric. “We know each other inside and out.”

Blake followed his brother’s progress with the Chargers this summer with an eye toward his own professional career. If all goes well, he’ll get his shot at the NFL during next year’s draft. He’s on the watch lists for the Davey O’Brien and Manning awards, presented to the top quarterbacks in college football, and USA Today called him the best QB you’ve never heard of.

“He’s always asking, ‘What’s it like? How are the quarterbacks looking?’’ said Eric. “He asks if it looks like he can do it. I think he can.”

Whether either or both Frohnapfels are able to pursue a life on the gridiron, they are, thanks to their family, prepared for whatever the future holds.

Blake and Eric. Eric and Blake.

“Me and Eric are the closest twins I’ve ever encountered,” said Blake. “We talk every day, we’re both very lucky to have someone who’s so similar to have experiences with. It’s also nice to have someone who is truly supportive.”

On the cover: The Frohnapfel twins on  the cover of high school football preview in 2010. (Photos courtesy of Marshall University)
Above: Video courtesy of the Mid-American Conference

Jill R. Dorson

Jill R. Dorson is a freelance writer based in San Diego.