AUBURN, Ala. -- Kris Frost had high hopes for his freshman season at Auburn.
A highly touted linebacker prospect from Matthews, N.C., who was ranked as a five-star athlete by Rivals.com, Frost was expected to contribute heavily to Auburns defense this season -- at least until a shoulder injury probably suffered in high school took a turn for the worse over the summer.
We were benching, doing incline bench, Frost said. I turned my elbow in, and (my shoulder) popped out the back, and all the weight fell on me. It wasnt the most fun experience.
Frost had torn his labrum, a ring of firm tissue around the shoulder socket that helps keep the arm bone in the shoulder socket.
He had been trying to fight off the injury for some time.
(Team surgeon Dr. James) Andrews said it could have happened as far back as a year ago, back in high school, Frost said. Over time, it got worse -- the Shrine Bowl, the All-American game -- it got worse and worse.
Frost underwent surgery in July to repair his shoulder, and the procedure effectively ended any chance the 6-foot-3, then-215-pounder had of helping Auburn this season.
A rangy, speedy prospect who also spent time at wide receiver in high school, Frost was supposed to shore up an outside linebacker spot that struggled at times. Auburn played 17 freshmen in 2011, the second-most in the country, but Frost was the highest-rated player in the Tigers incoming freshman class.
The coaching staff was expecting him to contribute.
When we evaluated him, thats what we thought, Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. But we never got a chance to find out.
The Tigers could have used Frost in a lineup that largely had a revolving door at the position this season. Only Daren Bates, Auburns leading tackler, started every game at linebacker.
Frost had to keep trying to rehab his shoulder and watch from the sideline. When Auburn went on the road, Frost was watching on TV. In the morning, when the rest of the team was out on the practice field doing walk-throughs, Frost was in the trainers room getting treatment on his surgically repaired shoulder.
It was a really big blow, he said. I had a lot of high expectations for myself. All the freshmen were competing to see who could make the biggest impact on the team, and I was right up there.
After a torn labrum has been repaired, it takes four to six weeks for the labrum to reattach to the rim of the bone. Only after that happened could Frost begin to start rebuilding the strength in his shoulder.
He was not able to practice during the regular season.
Midway through the season, Frost began helping then-Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof signal in Auburns defensive calls from the sideline.
Watching from the sideline, Frost picked up on some of the nuances of the position.
That really helped me a whole lot, Frost said. Each outside linebacker, how they reacted to each play and fits and everything. Doing those hand signals on the field really got me thinking quicker on a college level.
Frost finally returned to the practice field Monday for Auburns bowl practices, albeit wearing the orange no-contact jersey normally reserved for somebody who plays a completely different position. He will not play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Everybodys kind of teasing me that I look like a quarterback, Frost said.
During his rehabilitation, Frost put on 7-10 pounds of muscle. He weighs 222-225 now. He is working at the strongside and weakside linebacker, trying to learn as much as possible.
Hes like any guy who is just starting off, Chizik said. He shows a lot of glimmers of why we recruited him.
Frost is happy to be back on the field.
Only one hurdle remains in his return from the injury, a hurdle he hopes to clear before bowl practices end.
Im sure next week Ill be able to put on the pads and go hit, Frost said. Oh, my gosh. I havent hit anybody since January.
He has to wait only a little longer.