Big Man On Campus Again

Ryan Harris doesn't let Marcus Freeman forget the time he was too good for him back in high school. How Freeman, now a fifth-year senior at Notre Dame, was too big time to even acknowledge his younger teammate at Cretin-Derham Hall during their prep days. The good-natured ribbing continued following practice Tuesday, as the two prepare for their final game at Notre Dame Stadium this Saturday.

"He was big time, he didn't want to talk to me at Cretin," Harris said of the guy who might as well be the third roommate at his and John Carlson's off-campus apartment. "I tease him about that all the time. He invited me to dinner at his house one time his senior year, and that's his point that he always tries to make. That's where I count our friendship as starting."

"He'll tell you we've been friends since high school," Harris later said, also including Freeman‘s cousin, another prep and college teammate Rashon Powers-Neal as being the other big man on campus. "I'll tell you we've been friends since his senior year of high school. We really kind of hung out and he took me underneath his wing. He really was a good resource for me in choosing schools and having a peer point of view in terms of how colleges look, and what it's like being in the college experience."

The college experience, where Harris could've turned the tables on his boy at Notre Dame. Harris has been a four-year starter at offensive tackle garnering national recognition, while Freeman hasn't played half as much being stuck behind Anthony Fasano (now with the Dallas Cowboys) and Carlson on the depth chart at tight end.

The injury to Carlson last Saturday against Air Force has opened the door for the 6-foot-3, 245-pound Freeman, who was mostly utilized as a blocking tight end this season and throughout his career. The four-star recruit showed what he can do right away, catching a 23-yard touchdown pass in the 37-17 win over the Falcons.

"It was just exciting," Freeman said of his first collegiate touchdown. "Actually Rhema (McKnight) told me before the game if I get in the zone he's going to go crazy. Once I caught that ball, I knew I was in the end zone and Rhema just jumped on me."

Head coach Charlie Weis said Carlson will be out the final two games of the regular season. He expects to have the nation's most prolific tight end (46 receptions, 621 yards and four touchdowns) back in the lineup for whatever bowl game the fifth-ranked Irish (9-1) are selected to play in.

Beginning with Army (3-7) this weekend, it will be up to Freeman and his nine career receptions to fill the void. It's a moment he's been preparing for.

Freeman has started three games, and has played half the reps according to Weis this season, as he likes to utilize two-tight end formations. Freeman knows the responsibilities of both tight ends on the field, so knowing where he is supposed to be and what route to run will be no problem.

"We're just being patient out there, and I'm just trying to take advantage of the opportunity that was given to me," said Freeman, who has caught four passes for 60 yards this season.

Freeman could produce better numbers than that this weekend against Army, and none of his teammates or coaches would be surprised. They say Freeman was just caught up in a numbers game, and they have the same confidence in him they had in Carlson.

"I think it would be more threatening if we didn't have that type of confidence in Marcus," Weis said of playing without Carlson. "It would be one thing if you were saying, well, now all of the sudden your two freshmen tight ends are now your starters. If you have a senior who has been playing a whole bunch the last couple of years, even though he's been anonymous because the front-line guy has been getting the notoriety, a guy with Marcus stepping in, I think that everyone on the team has total confidence that Marcus can perform.

"So therefore, it alleviates a lot of the concerns you would have, game planning and everything else, because you're not changing anything with him in there."

"He went in there when Carlson went down, he went in there and it was just like Carlson wasn't missing," tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee said. "When you have guys like that, and I try to teach them that you never know when your opportunity is going to come. When you go in there, the most important thing is to be ready. And they've done a good job, and Freeman new the blocking scheme and caught a touchdown, so the ability has always been there."

The ability has always been there, and that's why being a role player has been so tough on Freeman. He could've called it quits after last season, took his marketing degree and moved onto the real world. But the opportunity to come back for a fifth season with the chance of competing for a National Championship and proving he was a player, was something Freeman couldn't pass up.

"I think everyone in the background wants to be No. 1, that's why you play this game, to be a great player," he said. "There's definitely been a frustration, with anybody's career if they don't play to the best of their ability."

With this opportunity, Freeman, who was a four-star recruit, will have the chance to show his abilities. He hopes to play on the next level and will pursue that before thinking about putting his degree to work. And now that Freeman is the man again at tight end, with the chance to catch the ball and score touchdowns, get some major recognition himself, maybe he'll start acting like a snob towards Harris again. If that was true to begin with.

"He loves to tell that story," Freeman said laughing. "The funny thing about it, I don't know if you really know Ryan, but Ryan was the quietest guy in high school, like sophomore and freshman year he didn't really talk to anybody, just kind of went about his own way. He just kind of broke out of his shell after that, so that's what we joke about basically." Top Stories