Former Henry Clay star Minnifield chasing NFL dream

The Washington PostAugust 18, 2013 

Frank Minnifield never needed his son to become a professional football player. Whether "doctor, lawyer, or any of those things," Minnifield, a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback for the Cleveland Browns, just wanted his son to do what he loved and do it well.

But in or on any field, success was never an option. Frank and Diane Minnifield wanted to make sure their son knew from the start — and never forgot — that much was expected of him.

So they named him Chase Onassis Minnifield: After Chase Bank, 20th-century shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis and of course, Minnifield, a name featured on the NFL's 1980s All-Decade team, that they "figure doesn't hurt."

"I was always held to a high standard," said Chase Minnifield, 24.

He hasn't disappointed, developing into a five-star recruit in high school and a two-time All-ACC player at the University of Virginia. After missing nearly two full years of football because of a microfracture surgery that left him undrafted in 2012 and a torn anterior cruciate ligament at the end of minicamp last year, he's making a name for himself as one of the surprise standouts of Redskins training camp.

"He can definitely play. Ain't no doubt about that," said Redskins cornerback D'Angelo Hall. "... Press, ball skills, he's tough as (nails). He's just a good football player, man. Son of a football player, and just a good football player."

Despite Frank Minnifield's amenability to other career paths for his son, there was never much doubt that "football player" would describe Chase for a long time.

"He was one of those type of kids, he wasn't going to be able to live with himself if he didn't play football," said Frank Minnifield, who also said he coached his son until college.

Frank took Chase to his games in Cleveland, where he brought him onto the field and into the locker room, though his son says he doesn't remember much from those trips.

Chase made sure no one could forget his career at Henry Clay High School in Lexington. There, he played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and even place kicker ("oh yeah, he can kick the ball," said his father, who also had excelled at Henry Clay before starring at the University of Louisville) in addition to defensive back, and emerged as one of the top players in Kentucky his junior year.

"Chase Manhattan," as his U-Va. teammates called him, is generously listed at 6 feet, 186 pounds, and Frank Minnifield said his son "didn't exhibit anything real special" in terms of size or speed in his high school career. But years spent around the highest levels of the game under his father's tutelage gave Chase an uncommon football acumen.

"I assumed that the reason why he was so much more productive than everybody else was because he knew so much more about it than everybody else," Frank said. "He was pretty well-calibrated early on about what you were trying to do on the football field."

"I'm a student. I love to learn and just soak in information from everybody," Chase said.

"I've been around the game my whole life, watched a lot of stuff, talked to a lot of former football players. I've always loved the game, I think that's what it is: me always being around it and watching it on TV, going to games and things like that."

Chase Minnifield's football IQ and hard-nosed style stuck out in Richmond, Va., where his physical play impressed even as it led to an in-practice dust-up with wide receiver Aldrick Robinson when the two got tangled up on a deep ball.

"He's extremely good at jamming wide receivers at the line, and preventing them from getting a clean release, which throws off the timing and rhythm of the passing game," 11th-year quarterback Rex Grossman said. "He's a real smart player that's tough and competes hard."

"He certainly provides a certain toughness, a certain physical ability, you gotta give his dad props, his dad credit for that as well," defensive backs coach Raheem Morris said. "He's got a pretty good defensive back coach in his family — I can't take all the credit for it — but he's been a pleasant surprise."

Chase Minnifield was no lock for a roster spot coming into camp, but now has Morris saying he's "looking forward to see him play every single week. Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said he "did an excellent job" in Washington's preseason opener against Tennessee.

"You can tell his dad played football. He's been around it his whole life, he's just a natural football player," Haslett said. "I like him because a guy that missed two years and can come back — he's going to get better and better every day.

If he doesn't, he'll hear about it from his father. Frank Minnifield said he still coaches him from afar, providing feedback on every play.

"It's more of reminders; it isn't really coaching anymore. Everything that he hears me saying now, he's heard me say a billion times," Frank said. "If he does it right, I say "thatta boy!" If he does it wrong, I say "man, what in the world were we thinking about here?"

So far this preseason, it's been a lot more "thatta boy's." That play, combined with his U-Va.-built local legend, had fans clamoring to get an undrafted free agent to sign autographs.

Frank thinks they're smart to do so.

"I'm sure everybody is holding their breath and withholding judgment because Chase has been hurt," his father said. "I think Chase can be as good as anybody in the league."

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