By Jon Johnson
SAFFORD – The long two-a-day practices on the field, the hours spent pumping iron in the weight room and in the library exercising the brain paid dividends for Safford’s Ralph Frias on Wednesday, as he officially became an Arizona State University Sun Devil.
It might be the first day of the new early signing period for football players to put their John Hancock on their National Letters of Intent, but for Safford Lineman Ralph Frias the day had been five long years in the making.
Flanked by friends, family, and coaches who joined Frias for this momentous occasion, the 6’6”330-pound athlete officially signed to play football for ASU in a ceremony in the Safford High School Library. Frias has been a lock for the Sun Devils ever since he first attended the school’s football camps in eighth grade. Even a coaching change didn’t make Frias flinch, and new ASU coach Herm Edwards already greeted him and his family to the fold.
“Going into it, seeing their practice facility when I first went into it in eighth grade seeing that was like ginormous and seeing that air bubble dome – that was kind of like insane to be inside,” Frias said.
Frias’ mother, Melody Abalos-Ruiz expressed how proud she was for how his hard work has paid off and how ASU is a good fit for her boy.
“I feel good sending him off to (somewhere) close to home yet far enough for him to kind of grow up and find himself,” she said. “Just the way they treat him – I’m excited and I feel good in my heart. And that’s something a mom is always supposed to feel.”
Local sports radio host Lee Patterson commented on the achievement and said in the 17 years he has been broadcasting locally Frias is the first Division I football player he has seen come from the Gila Valley.
Safford head football coach Mike Alba said while Frias has the natural size to excel at the collegiate level, he also had to put in a lot of work to make his dream a reality.
“Ralph has the size for it, but Ralph also has the work ethic,” Alba said. “He did all the stuff to make sure his feet and his bend and all that stuff that college’s look for are top of the line, so he put in a lot of work to get where he’s at right now.”
While Frias’ dream is to one day play on Sundays in the National Football League, he is taking his academics seriously and knows what an opportunity he has to study at ASU and continue to play the game he loves as most of his senior teammates will likely never suit up in a helmet and shoulder pads again.
“You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t excel in the classroom then you really can’t go anywhere,” Frias said.
Frias’ family will certainly be going places next year as they travel to Tempe to watch their favorite new Sun Devil.
“He’s come a long way,” Frias’ dad, Nigel Ruiz said. “Just to see him as a Sun Devil, it’s an honor. I’m really excited, and I can’t wait for it next year.”