by Howie Stalwick & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & C & lt;/span & harles Frederick never lived up to the considerable hype that preceded his arrival at the University of Washington, but he's quickly achieved icon status in Cougar Country.
Frederick's immense talent, electric smile and flowing dreadlocks have made him a huge fan favorite in Spokane, where the top-ranked Shock has packed the 10,000-seat Spokane Arena every game during Spokane's first season in arenafootball2.
"This town loves us, and we sure love them," says Frederick, a rookie wide receiver, linebacker and kick returner.
Arena football, an 8-on-8 score-a-thon played on artificial turf on a miniature field (50 yards long and 88 feet wide) enclosed by padded walls, is the perfect vehicle for the lightning-quick Frederick. He leads the 14-2 Shock with 36 touchdowns, 85 catches (tied), 973 receiving yards, 22 TD receptions and 10 rushing touchdowns (tied).
"I just love this game," Frederick says. "It's a lot of fun.
"The intensity is great, and the game is fast. The fans are right there; you can talk to them, interact with them. That's the best part about it."
Actually, scoring touchdowns is the best part about it, and Frederick scored a team-record seven touchdowns in one game in a 79-69 (yes, 79-69) loss at Louisville on June 10.
"No doubt he's one of the best players in the league at his position," Louisville coach Tommy Johnson says. "Coach [Chris] Siegfried has done a great job of getting him open.
"With his hands and speed, he's going to do well."
Frederick caught 15 passes for 192 yards and five touchdowns against Louisville. Compare that to 17 catches for 253 yards and one touchdown his entire senior season at Washington, where a hamstring injury limited Frederick to five games.
Frederick still managed to finish sixth in Husky history with 121 receptions and seventh with 1,735 receiving yards. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native made the All-Pacific-10 Conference first team as a kick returner in 2003, when he broke a 53-year-old school record held by the legendary Hugh McElhenny by piling up 371 all-purpose yards against Oregon State.
Still, Husky fans and coaches always expected more out of Frederick, who was ranked the No. 1 high school receiver in the nation by Student Sports. Frederick's reputation as an underachiever in college was not helped by a comment made by then-Washington coach Keith Gilbertson during Frederick's final season.
"I've never known a hamstring injury to last eight weeks," Gilbertson grumbled.
Frederick, of course, says his injury was legit. When Frederick is healthy, he's a blur -- 5 feet, 11 inches and 185 pounds chock full of dizzying head fakes, spin moves and more pelvis jerks than Elvis.
"He's a jitterbug kind of guy," Johnson says. "You don't see too many of those kind of guys in the NFL, unless they're returning kicks. That's no knock on his ability -- don't misunderstand."
Johnson questions whether Frederick is big enough to play in the NFL, particularly at wide receiver. Frederick says his size is not a problem, though he failed tryouts with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Detroit Lions last season and with Philadelphia and Tampa Bay in the Arena Football League (the "major leagues" of indoor football) earlier this year.
"I know his hands are good enough for the NFL, but you usually have these 6-2, 200-pound receivers in the NFL," Johnson points out.
Obviously, Frederick is way too small to play linebacker in the NFL, but he relishes the chance to play linebacker in arena ball. Frederick is tied for fourth on the Shock with 31.5 tackles, and he leads the team with three fumble recoveries, including two for touchdowns.
Frederick laughs when telling of his reaction the first time coaches sent him to play linebacker.
"I was thinking to myself, 'WHAT?' All these big guys running at me. But linebacker is fun. You get to hit those big guys!"
Frederick admits "it kind of hurt me a little bit" being cut by NFL and AFL teams. Still, he says the unwavering support of his family (including a younger brother who was shot back home this summer, causing Frederick to miss one game) keeps him focused on his goal of reaching the NFL.
"If nothing works out, I'll be right back here," Frederick says. "The fans are great."
Of course, let's not forget that Frederick was an honorable mention prep All-American in basketball, and he played hoops his freshman year at Washington.
"Basketball, it's still my first love," Frederick says. "I could see myself playing in the NBA if I got a shot."
The Spokane Shock takes on the Bakersfield (Calif.) Blitz in an arenafootball2 playoff game at 7 pm Saturday (KZBD 105.7 FM) at the Spokane Arena. No television. For tickets, phone 325-SEAT or (800) 325-SEAT. A sellout is possible.