Senior Retrospective: Marcus Freeman

With the 2008 football season over, Ohio State has said goodbye to a number of senior standouts who have been part of one of the nation's top programs over the past few seasons. With that in mind, we're running a weeklong series of Senior Retrospectives on the principal members of that group. Linebacker Marcus Freeman is today's subject.

Stardom was predicted for Marcus Freeman when the linebacker – who stood 6-2, 238 pounds before his senior year of high school at Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne in southwest Ohio – began looking at schools.

Early in his process, Freeman listed Ohio State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Miami (Fla.) and Oklahoma – powers all – as potential landing points.

Wayne head coach Jay Minton didn't do much to dissuade talk going into Freeman's senior year of 2003 at the school that his star, who could bench 430 pounds and run a 4.47 40-yard dash, was among the top players in Ohio and perhaps the best.

"Marcus is one of those special athletes that has great numbers, testing-wise, but I'll tell you what, he can live up to it, too, the expectations that is," Minton said at the time.

Minton also added that Freeman, who ended up being a four-star recruit and's No. 11 linebacker in the class of 2003, was taking all of the attention afforded him well.

Freeman's comments at the time seemed to indicate as such.

"I want to do on offense the same thing that I do on defense – give 110 percent and be an impact player," Freeman said at talk that he would also ply his trade in the Warriors' backfield. "The big thing that I want to improve on (defensively) is probably my pass coverage. That's something that you can always get better at and it's something that I realized when I was at Ohio State (camp). I got beat a few times and if you want to be one of the best players in the state you have to get better at that."

Freeman did become a better player against the pass, using that ability to complement his other skills while becoming a complete player in his Ohio State career. He spent the past three seasons – save the second half of this year, when he was bothered by an ankle injury – on the field at nearly all times for OSU, playing in the base, nickel and dime defenses

He finished his Buckeye career with 268 tackles, 21½ of which came behind the line of scrimmage. He added six sacks and broke up 17 passes, continuously showing his athleticism while patrolling passing lanes at Ohio State.

Buckeye fans might have expected such statistics when he began his Ohio State career in October 2003. The manner in which he did so couldn't help but endear himself to some OSU fans.

On a Wednesday morning, Freeman had a press conference to announce his choice, which had come down to Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame. Hats representing each school sat on a table in front of him. He began by outlining what he liked about each school before dramatically lifting up the Michigan hat and tossing it aside.

"That brought me to Ohio State and Notre Dame," he said. "I sat down with my parents, looked at the pros and cons of each school, and it was a very tough decision."

After a beat, he said. "I finally came to the decision of The Ohio State University."

A thunderous roar went up from those in attendance.

"It was a long, thought-out process with me and my parents, just sitting down and looking at the pros and cons of each school," he later said. "The final decision came down to a gut feeling. I prayed about it and Ohio State's the school for me in my heart."

He said that he would immediately begin to work on the other two top prospects in the state, Cleveland Glenville defensive back Ted Ginn Jr. and Toledo Rogers wideout Fred Davis.

Freeman eventually played in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl and enrolled at Ohio State in time for classes in January 2004. However, he wasn't ready to go at the start, reporting to Ohio State at around 260 pounds.

By the time the 2004 season rolled around, Freeman had progressed to the point where he could see the field occasionally. Donning the No. 17, he made four tackles in 12 games and also saw his most extensive game action by playing seven minutes at Purdue.

Now sporting the No. 1, he went into 2005 thinking he might be in line for increased playing time. Coaches had hinted that the Buckeyes might experiment with a 3-4 defense, and his fellow linebackers were praising his development after he made nine tackles and two tackles for loss in the spring game while running with the first unit because of injuries.

"I knew what you had to go through to become a better player," Freeman said of his first year on campus. "You have to watch a lot more film and pay attention. I knew A.J. (Hawk) and Bobby (Carpenter) had played a lot, so I just followed them and asked them some things. They helped me to become a better player."

"We have a lot of confidence in Marcus," Hawk chimed in. "I'm sure that he can play."

But that chance Freeman had of working his way into the rotation lasted just one game. That's as long as he played in 2005 before injuring his knee, a malady that became worse when a staph infection set in and delayed his recovery. He ended up missing the rest of the season and taking a redshirt.

"Not to take anything for granted," Freeman said when asked what he learned from the injury. "You have to play every play like it's your last. It was a long rehab session and a lot of tough obstacles to climb. But I feel like I am completely healthy. I'm ready to go."

"The year off helped him maturity-wise," LBs coach Luke Fickell added. "It helped him to know he's got some time. The biggest thing, Marcus is a sophomore, but this will be his third year and he's almost like a senior because he came in early (in 2004). You're looking at a guy who is very mature and knows the system. He's got to take it and run with it."

He jumped into the starting lineup when 2006 rolled around and had a standout season while playing mostly beside James Laurinaitis. Freeman made 71 tackles that year while making 2.5 TFL, two interceptions and one sack. Though Ohio State was blown out in the national title game that year, Freeman made a season-high 15 tackles. His six pass breakups were second on the team, and he had a big interception to seal the team's win against Iowa.

He came back for 2007 hoping to improve upon that season both on and off the field.

"My biggest goal of this spring was to step up and be more of a leader," he said. "I wanted to step up and earn the respect of my teammates and coaches and show them I'll be ready to step up when needed. I'm one of the older guys now and I know the in-and-outs of the program and feel that will help me take on more of a leadership role."

He was rotating at an outside linebacker spot with sophomore Ross Homan when the year began, but Homan picked up with an injury that ended his season. Freeman began to excel with Homan out, totaling 105 tackles to finish second on the team while adding 9.5 TFL. Four times he topped 10 stops in a game, the most coming when he had 18 during a loss to Illinois. He also had 14 during a nationally televised demolition of Penn State.

"Any time you're on the field and continue to play and play, it's a good thing," Freeman said. "I think your confidence builds up, (and) when you play with confidence, you play better defense."

Once the season was over, Freeman, projected as a late second- or third-round pick, was faced with the same choice as many of his classmates, and that was whether to return for a senior season.

Of course, he did so, echoing his teammates in his praise of the atmosphere at Ohio State.

"You look around here and realize this is a special place," he said recently. "Being at Ohio State is something you can't simulate in the NFL. It's about these people, it's about this city, it's about this state. People often say it's about winning national championships, but it's not. The chances of doing that are so tough. It's just about being around these guys.

"I had graduated already. And it took me a while because I had to figure out what was best for me, what did I want. A lot of people say they come back for their degree. I had my degree. I'd been here four years. But when you really thought about leaving this place, it wasn't a good feeling."

Neither was the lingering ankle injury that limited Freeman's final year, but he still toughed through the pain to start every game while earning second-team All-Big Ten honors. He made 76 tackles while splitting time with Homan, adding 9.5 tackles for loss and a career high 3.5 sacks. He also recovered a fumble against Michigan.

Honors included CoSIDA academic all-district first-team and nominations for the Lowe's Senior CLASS Award, the ARA Sportsmanship Award, Bobby Bowden Award and the Wuerffel Trophy.

Though Laurinaitis' three standout seasons will be hard to replace, his sidekick in Freeman leaves big shoes to fill as the Buckeyes begin to prepare for 2009.

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