Frank Minnifield never needed his son to become a professional football player. Whether “doctor, lawyer or any of those things,” Frank, 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 optional. Frank and his wife, Diane, wanted to make sure their son knew from the start — and never forgot — that a lot was expected of him.
So they named him Chase Onassis Minnifield: after Chase Bank, the 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, 24.
He hasn’t disappointed, developing into a five-star recruit in high school and a two-time all-ACC player at 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,” Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall said. “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 his father’s amenability to other career paths, there was never much doubt that “football player” would describe him 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, who 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 in Lexington, Ky. There, Minnifield played quarterback, running back, wide receiver and even kicker (“oh yeah, he can kick the ball,” Frank said) in addition to defensive back and emerged as one of the top players in the state his junior year.
“Chase Manhattan,” as his U-Va. teammates called him, is generously listed at 6 feet, 186 pounds, and Frank 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 players, 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.”
Minnifield’s football IQ and hard-nosed style stuck out in Richmond, 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.”
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, [that] 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 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 boys.” His 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 judgement because Chase has been hurt,” Frank said. “I think Chase can be as good as anybody in the league.”
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