Flashback: From Third String Benchwarmer To Star…Within Minutes

FishDuck Staff Men of Oregon: Players and Coaches


Special teams has played an important role in the past 20 years of Oregon football.  Specifically, Oregon fans, players, and coaches take great pride in the kicking game.  During the great era of the mid-90’s – mid-2000’s rise to fame, the Oregon Faithful saw lots of successful kickers split the uprights.  One in particular saw his persistence pay off, as he went from a no name walk-on to a successful starter who graduated with honors, and remains successful to this day.  Fishduck is proud to welcome Josh Frankel.


Josh Frankel came to Oregon in 1996 as a walk-on.  A successful high school kicker and soccer star, it was his dream to kick for a Pac-10 school.  Stanford had recruited him, but their admissions requiring high SAT scores forced him to look elsewhere.  Frankel then chose Oregon over Arizona, in part because they guaranteed him a spot on the team as a walk-on (while Arizona first required admission followed by a tryout).

“I had a good prep career, being all league/all-city, but, I didn’t get any scholarship offers.  I realized I’d have to sell myself to play in the Pac-10. I was accepted at Oregon academically as a ‘recruited walk-on’; they were a growing powerhouse coming of the Rose & Cotton Bowl seasons 1994/1995.)  It was the right fit academically, and I thought I’d have the best chance to play.”

Talk about your first playing experience:

“Against Washington in 1996, I was a true freshman.”   [Note: on a field goal attempt, a bad snap caused starting kicker Josh Smith to go after the ball.  Smith was knocked in the head on the play, forcing him out for the remainder of the game.  Therefore, Frankel got his first game experience as a true freshman.]  “I NEVER anticipated Coach Bellotti to call my number.  But, for some reason he did.  I kicked two extra points, and that was it; I didn’t play again the rest of the season.  But, as a true freshman walk-on–to get into a Pac-10 game was huge.”


In 1997, Oregon had a mid-season slump.  A near-miracle comeback at USC came down to a field goal.  Three-year starter Josh Smith’s attempt sailed feet short of paydirt.  Afterward, competition for the starting kicker was opened up in practice.  Frankel’s persistence paid off as he beat out Smith and he started the remainder of his sophomore season.  He connected a field goal in the miracle upset over the #6 Washington Huskies, and went 4/4 on PAT attempts to prove the difference-maker in the 31-28 victory in Seattle.  He continued out the 1997 season as the starter, and Oregon finished strong and won the Las Vegas Bowl.

In 1998, All-American JC Transfer Nathan Villegas arrived at Oregon.  Frankel was suddenly back down the depth chart, and back to square one.  However, this would prove a blessing in disguise for Frankel, as sitting out 1998 gained him extra eligibility down the road when unexpectedly needed.


Villegas was excelling as Oregon’s kicker; nearly perfect on all kick attempts, he became a 1999 All-American & Lou Groza Award candidate.  Then, disaster struck for Villegas in the fourth game.  After he connected a game-tying field goal against USC to send the game to overtime, he was injured during a celebration.  Josh Smith had graduated, leaving only walk-on kickers behind Villegas.  In the most famous play of his career, Frankel came on for the winning field goal of the third overtime to win the game.  The kick split the uprights, and the starting job during Villegas’ rehabilitation belonged to Frankel the next six weeks.

Q.  Talk about that winning field goal, and was it your biggest personal play at Oregon?

A.   “Yes.  That was a life-changing moment… a third-string walk-on kicker going in, I was as much a spectator as anyone in the stands.  Nate (Villegas) was an All-American; Dan Katz handled kickoffs and was second-string.  When Nate got hurt, Dan attempted a FG on OT and missed.  In the second OT, I went in to kick the PAT.  Making that PAT gave Coach Bellotti the confidence I could make the field goal.  (You’ve gotta thank the USC kicker for missing in the third OT; there’s a lot less pressure in a tie game since a miss only means a fourth OT!) When I made that kick, it was truly right out of a dream–to come off the sideline in that surreal setting over USC (my hometown team.)  That is a moment I’ll always have with me.  It’s nice to be able to leave a legacy through that kick, given the drama of that game until after midnight and standing as the longest game in Duck History.  It’s an honor for me to be a part of that.”

Suddenly, Frankel was the man for the Ducks.  1999 was a very successful year for the true senior.  In fact, Frankel was nearly perfect in field goals (11 of 13) with only one true miss (another was blocked.)  He was very successful with the winning kick at Arizona in a desert shootout, and had early game field goals prove to make a difference in tight wins over Arizona State and California.  Villegas would return to action in the final home game (Civil War) in 1999 to finish strong at Autzen, followed up with a solid Sun Bowl performance.  However, Frankel (who was honored as a senior at the Civil War) brought to his coaches’ attention his extra year of eligibility during preparation for the Sun Bowl.  Following the departure of Villegas, Frankel was awarded a scholarship for his outstanding performance, and was able to return for the 2000 season.  “It would have been great to have a scholarship earlier!  But, waiting four years and going through the trials/tribulations and losing battles for the starting job–then finally earning a scholarship four years later really reveals and builds character.”

Frankel returned for his fifth year the memorable 2000 Holiday Bowl year.  The season started out positive, and he was near-perfect in the non-conference games and the conference-opener upset over #6 UCLA.  Though Oregon beat Washington 23-16 at home in game five, the margin of victory could have been larger, as Frankel only made one of several field goal attempts.  The disloyal fans questioned Frankel’s abilities after the Washington game  and for weeks later, following a missed field goal in the first overtime of the “Desert Miracle” win at Arizona State.

Only one week later at Washington State, Frankel had a career day to prove the naysayers wrong, when he graciously ended his mid-season slump in style.  In the second quarter, he connected on a career-long 46 yard field goal. Oregon then went into a slump, but Joey Harrington led another comeback to send the game into overtime for the second consecutive week.  In OT, Frankel made the most of his second chance to provide the winning points.  He not only connected, but beat his record set earlier in the game with a career-best 47 yard field goal.  The defense held on WSU’s possession, and Frankel went back to being a hero, being as his winning kick was the second overtime win of his career.  He went on to finish the year and his career remarkably, and went out with a bang when Oregon defeated Texas in the Holiday Bowl.  That year, Frankel led the team in scoring with 76 points (13 field goals and 36 PATs.)

Q. Thoughts on the Arizona State game and missing the field goal during his mid-season slump?

A. We got the ball, I was like ‘keep it down the middle’ (so I could kick it straight.)  Next play, sweep right; now fourth down it was on the right hash!  I went in and hit the ball well, but I hooked it.  But, that’s one time you just got to stay headstrong.  I remember clapping my hands (thinking ‘crap!’) but saying I’d get the next one.  You can’t think about that kick anymore when you’re a kicker, that kick was done, it missed–it missed.  We went into a second OT, I made the PAT.  THEY went for two on their TD, and we won.  Though I didn’t have the chance to be the hero, I was so relieved we won!  The next week was Wazzu then I was able to be the hero in OT and the rest is history–BUT, one thing I would change was I’d have kept the ball in the middle!

Q.  If you could change anything about your time at Oregon, what would it be?

A.  “I wouldn’t do anything over again.  Even the bad days and misses I had, I wouldn’t change anything.  Fortunately, none of my misses cost us a game.  What you learn about yourself and life in down times is irreplaceable; so I really value those experiences now.  They’re painful times when you’re a 20 year-old kid and miss kicks on national TV; that’s hard to recover from.  If I see a kicker now have a bad game, I reach out to him (as I’ve done with Maldinado) telling him to keep his head up.  It’s part of my life to give back when I see guys go through what I did.”

Q.  What was your personal favorite game/best performance?

A.  Two games:  1. 10-23-1999, at Arizona:  “It was about a month after USC.  At that point, I was the starter.  It was a close game (44-41.)  For me, I just had a ball in that game… kicking four field goals, including the tie-breaker with a minute left to win the game.  That game was a hoot!  Road games are that more fun, because you have to come together as one unit.”  2.  11-4-2000 at Washington State:  “I was in a mid-season slump.  But, the coaches stuck with me along with my team mates.  The fans reluctantly stuck with me.  To be able to come through in that moment was really special for me.”


Frankel graduated with honors and high GPA in December, 2000.  Following the 2000 Holiday Bowl, Frankel went south to take a job at a EJ Gallo Winery in San Rafael, California from 2001-2004.

Q.  What was it like to leave the team and make a life beyond playing for the Ducks?

A.  “In some ways I feel I never left the team.  It’s etched into my life (such as plaques, diplomas, and gameballs on my office wall.)  It’s an experience that can never be taken away.  Most guys would feel the same–those few years are some of the greatest of our lives.  That said–life’s is much bigger with a family and career.  But, those times you never trade for anything.  

However, your identity is built up as being a football player.  When you don’t have that anymore, you need to find something else.  For me, it was work.  That’s tough at first when all your life you’ve been identified as an athlete.  Being a field goal kicker will always be part of me, but I had to develop into new roles.  Now, the role of dad and husband are the most important in my life.  But, being a Duck is right up there with other important life roles.”

In 2004, Frankel decided to return to his old stomping grounds in Eugene to pursue a MBA at Oregon and finally see the game from a student’s viewpoint.  Following the reception of his Master’s degree, Frankel returned to his hometown of Los Angeles to utilize his MBA with General Motors Corporation’s Sports Marketing Department.  It was a successful three year career, where he also met his future wife Amy.  Incidentally, Amy was moving to Portland to pursue a medical education at OHSU, which by miraculously led Josh back to Oregon for the third time.  The couple settled in Portland where they married May 9, 2009.


Frankel in his Merrill Lynch Office with the 2000 WSU Gameball

Frankel has worked as an Financial Advisor for Merrill Lynch since his move to Portland in 2009.  Incidentally, he interned with the Eugene Merrill Lynch office while in undergraduate school from 1998-2001.  That payed off down the road as it led to land him a career with Merrill Lynch.  Just last September 21, Josh and Amy welcomed their first child, son Ethan.

To this day, Frankel remains very close and loyal to the Oregon football program.  He serves on the Order of the O Letterman’s club board, and the Oregon Club of Portland Booster Club – where he will serve as president next year.  Oregon football will forever be cherished by Frankel; he credits it with making a huge difference in shaping him into the man he is today.

Do you have any final messages for the fans?

The fans make the program.  The experience as a football player is amazing.  You go to practice, workout, and do all those busy things to prepare to play Saturdays.  The game atmosphere with all the fans, students, alumni truly make the program.  I hope that never changes.  Eugene is amazing, truly the best in the country.  When I had my struggles my senior year, I got an outpour of fan support, and it kept me going.  I always cherish that.  Going back to games now, I still see that–they are rooting for their players, and that’s what makes Oregon so special.

[Writer’s Post-Article Note:  On a personal level, Josh Frankel and I go back to his playing days.  Being a young fan in my mid-teens at the time of his senior season, my Duck passion was at its peak the unforgettable 2000 season.  During Frankel’s mid-season struggles, I e-mailed and wrote Josh letters of inspiration.  He wrote back with sincere appreciation.  Following the comeback over Wazzu, I congratulated him for persevering, and he told me how much my support along with other fans’ helped him through.  We have remained friends ever since.]

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