"It's definitely been tough," Freeman said of his four-year wait for meaningful playing time. "I've been trying to work hard every day. I've been trying to do the little things right to get into a position where I can really show my talents. It's been a tough road, but I've enjoyed the journey."
Each fall camp, word would surface about the former Cretim-Derham high school star making spectacular plays on the field, but then the season would arrive and Freeman would find himself back on the sidelines.
"You really can't control it. You can only control what you do on the field. You can't control what the coaches think and what their agenda may be," he said when asked why the previous coaching staff didn't play him despite the positive reviews. "I just tried to go out every day and be my best and just see where it went from there."
Freeman knew he had a clean slate with the arrival of a new coaching staff and he immediately went to work to impress them. Freeman did get on the field last season, logging 63:23 minutes of playing time, but former Irish tight end Anthony Fasano caught most of the passes that went the tight end's way in 2005.
With Fasano now in the NFL, Freeman knew he had an opportunity to finally showcase his talent and he made the most of it.
"I feel a lot stronger and quicker," Freeman said of the hard work he put in over the winter and summer months. "I'm actually about the same weight I was last year, but I definitely feel stronger and quicker. I probably lost a little body fat. I think I'm in great shape. I think we're all in great shape and coach Mendoza has done a great job of getting us ready."
Not only was Freeman in great shape, but he also impressed on the field….so much so that head coach Charlie Weis singled him out as the player who had been the biggest surprise of the entire spring.
"I think it's a couple of things," Freeman said when asked what he did to gain such high praise from Weis. "This is my second year in the system and I feel real comfortable in the system. I thinking I'm blocking better and I just understand the system a lot better."
"It's somewhat similar in ways, but there's a lot more to learn in this system," he said when comparing the current system to the previous offensive system. "Knowing a system, and having a basis to go off of, it's easy to pick up this system. I just think I know it better. I know my assignments and I'm blocking better."
Freeman continues to impress in practice and expects to be active on Saturday, and the fifth-year senior says he can't wait for the game to begin.
"That's definitely the case," Freeman laughed when asked if he were sick of fall camp. "This is my fifth camp so I'm definitely ready to get to the games. I'm ready and excited to play.
"It's a physical and mental grind. It doesn't get any easier. You just got to get up and think happy thoughts. It's not fun but it needs to be done."
Now that the light is at the end of the tunnel for Freeman, we asked him if he'll get nervous knowing he'll be a main cog in the Notre Dame offensive system this weekend.
"You always get butterflies before the game," he admitted. "It's just the excitement of the game. I love football and I love to come out and compete. You always get some butterflies but it goes away. Now that I'm more into the mix, it's going to be really exciting."
The former two-time Minnesota all-state selection also believes the veteran leadership this Irish offense possesses should carry Notre Dame a long way this season.
"We're a veteran team. The leadership among the seniors is there, coming out and showing through example that we've committed ourselves to winning," he said. "We've shown that we can be successful as a unit and we know that we can score some points.
"Last year we thought we had a chance to be good, but we really didn't know how we we're going to do throughout the season. This year I think we know that we can do it. I think we're really focused and want to go out and prove we're a good team."
Freeman, who has already graduated with a business degree and is enrolled in graduate studies this semester, hopes this season won't be his last in football. Like any college football player, he hopes he gets his shot at the next level.
"It definitely gives you hope," Freeman said when asked about Fasano's season last year propelling him to an NFL career. "Anthony is a good friend of mine and we talk from time to time. I was excited for him to have an opportunity to have a great year and hopefully John and I can do the same this year. I just want to win our games this year and play my best and then we'll see what happens."
Wait Over for Freeman
IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories
How Irish Plan To Get BetterND has been better on the backboards and has held opponents to less than 38 percent shooting. Greater challenges the next two weeks include Fort Wayne, Villanova and Purdue.
Holmes plans transferOffseason attrition continues for Notre Dame. Wide receiver Corey Holmes joins Malik Zaire and John Montelus in seeking opportunity elsewhere. Holmes received his release from head…
IrishIllustrated.comYesterday at 1:56 PM
Status Report: Irish SafetiesThe fifth in our series of season-end evaluations examines Notre Dame’s roster with a look at each individual’s status entering the offseason. Is he ascending? Has he stagnated? Or…
IrishIllustrated.comYesterday at 6:40 AM
Swarbrick Reaffirms Kelly’s Status At NDSwarbrick said in October that Kelly would be back in ‘17. He didn’t feel the need to re-state his case until speculation about the head coach’s status continued in the media.
IrishIllustrated.comYesterday at 6:22 AM