Decade after father’s death, Pa. prep football star deals with tragedy by visiting crash site before each game
Sam Frame Jr. was a big reason why Northern Lehigh stuffed Lackawanna Trail twice from inside the 2-yard line to preserve a 21-14 lead two weeks ago in the PIAA Class 2-A playoff opener.
Four plays later, the Bulldogs scored the game-clinching touchdown.
Frame was instrumental last week in limiting West Catholic to 39 yards in five empty possessions to start the game while coach Joe Tout’s offense piled up 28 points on its way to a 48-24 victory.
The starting two-way lineman’s play in the last two months has improved incrementally.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pounder has been more assertive and confident in that stretch, one that can be linked to his weekly visits to a tree.
This large tree is at a part of Old Mill Road in Slatington referred to as "Dead Man’s Curve."
Frame knows all too well about how that stretch of road earned its nickname. His father, Sam Frame Sr. lost his life on March 4, 2012, when his vehicle hit that tree. The 32-year-old left behind his 7-year-old son, 6-year-old daughter Cassidy, and wife Kim.
A gold sign on the tree reads: ‘Ruler of the sky, Samuel Paul Frame, strongly missed but never forgotten.’
Samuel Paul Frame Jr. only now has come to grips with the tragedy and gained inner strength and confidence by sitting in front of that tree each weekend hours before every Northern Lehigh game and talking to his father.
“I never went there before,” he said. “I thought I was ready, but I wasn’t.
“Now when we’re all there, it feels like [my dad] is there with us, his spirit. And when we’re on the field, it feels like he’s playing with us.”
Sam Frame Sr. was a standout player in the late 1990s, when former coach Jim Tkach was turning the program into a consistent winner. He teamed with Matt Lilly and Jeff Rink in the full house backfield, scoring four touchdowns in a 1996 win over Notre Dame-Green Pond.
Frame Sr. was nicknamed Slam for the way in which he tackled opposing runners.
“I heard he was really good,” Frame Jr. said. “His friends tell me about him being in the newspaper articles for having monster games.
“It motivates me a lot, to continue what he did back in high school.”
Shawn Frame has tried the last nine years to fill a portion of the parental void left by his younger brother. When he found out about his nephew’s journey to Old Mill Road, he thought of a way to offer support.
“He wanted to spend time reflecting on his season,” Shawn Frame said. “It was almost like he was hanging out with his dad.
“I asked him if he minded having company.”
Frame took his uncle up on the offer to have his uncle and his two sons, Matt and Nick, there in the hours leading up to the five games. The ritual will continue Friday afternoon before Northern Lehigh travels to Lehighton for its state semifinal against four time-defending champion Southern Columbia.
The four share their feelings about Frame’s dad at the site. There also are moments of silence, a prayer for that day and sprinkling of Frame Sr.’s ashes.
“I just tell Sam how proud his dad would be of him,” Shawn Frame said. “We’re all there just to support him.”
The three cousins have played football together since elementary school. They are enjoying their last year being on the same team. They are key cogs in Northern Lehigh’s 11-3 season.
Matt, a senior, is the team’s leading rusher. Nick, a junior, has been among the team’s top two tacklers all season. Sam is one of three, two-way linemen.
The Bulldogs were expected to have a successful season, but the defensive linemen early on were slow to develop. They, like the offensive front, were young and inexperienced.
Frame Jr. and his oldest cousin spent much of the offseason working out at Snap Fitness in Walnutport, so the sophomore was physically prepared for the varsity grind. His lack of knowledge and confidence were holding him back.
“Things are really starting to click now,” Bulldogs coach Joe Tout said. “He’s controlling the gaps, reading things better. Offensively, he gets the playbook now. Early on, there were a lot of mistakes. He didn’t know the blocking scheme.
“I think he was humbled early on coming back as a returning starter [at defensive tackle]. But he’s turned it on the latter part of the season.”
“With Sam and Jayden Krempasky,” Matt Frame added, “our D-line is one of strongest points after being one of our weakest early in the year.”
Frame found out what it was like for his dad to play running back. He spent time last year in the backfield during the JV season, averaging 15 yards a carry.
The closest he gets this season is lining up as a wing when the Bulldogs go with direct snaps to his cousins or senior Trevor Amorim.
“Sam keeps bugging me about a reverse,” Tout joked.
Northern Lehigh is four solid quarters away from the program’s state finals appearance. It will take plenty to knock off powerhouse Southern Columbia.
But there has been a special bond helping drive the Bulldogs season.
“We’ve always done things together growing up,” Matt Frame said. “We’re really close. But when we go to the tree, I feel like we’ve formed this connection so that when all three of us play together we’re locked in as one, like a dangerous force.”