Football taught Frank LeMaster a valuable lesson.
"You only get out of life what you put into it," LeMaster once said. "If you put 110 percent in everything you do, then you should walk away and feel like a winner."
LeMaster didn't know much about the Philadelphia Eagles when he was selected by the team in the fourth round of the 1974 NFL Draft out of Kentucky. It's not much of a surprise as the Eagles had not played in a playoff game since the 1960 NFL Championship. But that didn't dispel LeMaster from putting 110 percent into his professional career and eventually helping turn the Eagles into a winner.
"I just fell in love with the people. After that first year and the fans, I couldn't believe it," LeMaster said. "The Eagles were only winning two, three, four games in the early 70s, but every game they packed the stadium. They were there."
The Eagles organization is saddened by the passing of the Pro Bowl linebacker, who died Thursday at the age of 71. He spent his entire nine-year career with the Eagles, helping the team win the NFC Championship in the 1980 season and earning Pro Bowl honors the following year. After his playing career, LeMaster and his wife, Marylou, raised their three sons – Justin, Brennan, and Alexander – in the Philadelphia area as he became the vice president of sales for FieldTurf. LeMaster remained an Eagles fan until the very end, attending Training Camp with his former head coach Dick Vermeil this past season.
After spending most of his rookie year playing on special teams and being mentored by Steve Zabel, LeMaster moved into the starting lineup in 1975 and led the team in tackles and collected four interceptions, including a pick-six against Washington. The following season, the Eagles hired Vermeil.
"It was really a breath of fresh air," LeMaster said. "We had had some losing seasons in '74 and '75 and we were all welcoming the change. When he came in, he was very young and had some great ideas. We were willing to work as hard as he wanted to work to win. What he did his first year, he kind of weeded out guys who wanted to pay the price and guys who didn't. He really developed a nucleus of players – the Dirty Dozen – that he really wanted to build the team around. And then we started working. He really was good about studying the game and because of his intensity and everything, I think it was contagious."
LeMaster said it was Vermeil's penchant for film study that transformed him from an average NFL linebacker to a Pro Bowl linebacker. In 1978, the Eagles reached the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades. LeMaster had a pick-six in the regular-season finale against the Giants to help clinch the win and the postseason berth. Two years later, the Eagles were NFC Champions after knocking off the Dallas Cowboys at Veterans Stadium in the title game.
"My adrenaline was pumping so hard I couldn't even feel my legs," said LeMaster. "Walking down that tunnel, there was an aura of confidence like I never felt before. Not only with me, but with the whole team. You could just sense it. And I knew, walking down that tunnel, that we were going to win that day. It was just a real, real powerful type of feeling."
LeMaster put 110 percent of himself into the Philadelphia Eagles and the Eagles became champions during his illustrious career. He left no doubt that he was a winner, both on the field and off.