AUBURN, Ala. — It hasn't been a smooth ride for Kris Frost the last three years.
From the day he signed with Auburn in 2011, the expectations were sky-high, as one would expect of a player regarded as one of the best players in the country at his position. Every major recruiting service gave him at least four stars. None was more enamored with him than Rivals, which ranked Frost as the No. 2 outside linebacker in the country.
But his freshman season in 2011 was over before it even began.
He tore his shoulder during a summer workout, leading to him taking a redshirt. During Auburn's dismal 2012 campaign, Frost was relegated to backup duty behind the Tigers' leading tackler, Daren Bates. Last year, he finally saw ample playing time, appearing in all 14 games and finishing with 59 tackles, fifth-most on the team. Even so, he only got the starting nod at middle linebacker one time — ironically enough, it came on his birthday, Oct. 19, in Auburn's 45-41 road victory over Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M.
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This fall will be far different.
Frost is an unquestioned starter in defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 scheme. Now in his fourth year, he's already taken on a mentoring role for the greener members of the linebacker corps.
With experience as his aid, Frost was able to reflect on how far he's come.
"It's been a fight, day in and day out," he said. "Since the day I got here and being injured and everything, it's been a fight. Knowing just what you overcome and what you can overcome, you kind of get an idea of yourself and knowing what you're capable of as far as what you can endure and what you can deal with."
The gridiron isn't the only place Frost has had to learn to deal with pressure, though.
"It's every day coming to meetings and going to class and everything, so it's been a long road," he said. "It's good to know where I've come, where I've come from and where I'm at now. It's just all about getting better each and every day."
Admittedly, Frost said he and his fellow defenders are light-years ahead of where they were at this time last spring, when Gus Malzahn had just taken the reins of the program.
"Last year was more learning the coaches, learning the scheme, learning everything," Frost said. "Now it's just polishing things up, teaching the new guys and really getting after it and showing what Auburn defense is about and getting back to where we were (in) years past.
"That's our goal and that's what we're going to do and we're not going to stop until we get there."
The Tigers were painstakingly close to bringing a BCS championship back to the Plains last season. That they came up short still eats at Frost.
"It was hard. It still is hard," he said. "We'll still think about it but we just use it as fuel. We know that we do everything we need to do and we just get the stuff done and we'll be back at the top again."
If they do that, it likely will come with Frost in a different position. He split reps with Jake Holland at middle linebacker in 2013. He has switched places with Cassanova McKinzy; Frost has moved to the weakside while McKinzy will man the middle.
It has been a smooth transition thus far, as Frost noted he's lining up in the spot Johnson always envisioned for him.
"(Johnson) said I have traits of an outside linebacker and Cass has traits of a middle linebacker," he said. "Me and Cass both discussed that and we both know that and everything. We're adjusting well to it. Cass is doing a really good job with all the calls and making sure the defense is where we need it to be."
Johnson hopes that doesn't change.
In his view, he was fortunate to have so many able bodies last year — "a linebacker by committee," he called it.
"I'm not sure we're going to have that many guys," the coach said. "If we get into a situation in the fall where I only feel like we've got three guys that are ready, I won't have the ability to play those guys at Mike or Will. I want the third-best guy on the field with them wherever he is.
"If we develop some better depth, I see Cassanova at the Mike and Kris at the Will."
After three years of being relegated to the background, Frost has his turn in the spotlight. Traversing this path hasn't been easy, but the junior assured everything has been worth it.
He's never been more at ease than he is right now.
"It's a relief and it's easy for me to get focused on what I need to do and all my priorities and knowing what I need to get better at," Frost said. "I'm really enjoying it. I'm enjoying having the opportunity to fly around and not really think so much but just reacting and feeling so comfortable with the defense.