Freeman finding his stride

Freshman cornerback has spent year working on the finer points of new position

At 6-foot, 185 pounds, with elite speed, University of Wisconsin freshman Antonio Freeman looks the part. As a spring and summer of national success on the track turned to his first fall training camp, however, Freeman looked like a fish out of water.

Everything, essentially, was different. Freeman had to make the jump to cornerback after playing outside linebacker and running back in high school and he had to adjust to steps and strides that make a football player fast, as opposed to the sprinter's technique that makes him a star on the track.

"I never really played corner before so my freshman year was kind of a load but I'm getting through it," Freeman said.

Freeman had trouble running with receivers in camp. Yes, the same player who has run a 10.4 100 meters and was one of the top prep sprinters in the country his junior and senior years was on the receiving end of a number of lessons in August.

Sure he could run, but in Wauwatosa (Wis.) West's scheme, Freeman was typically responsible for containing the edge in the running game and covering the flats versus the pass. Now, he was being asked to play bump-and-run and cover receivers one-on-one—at times matching up in practice with receivers three or four years his elder.

"It's been a hard adjustment for me," Freeman said. "I'm used to hitting people. I'm out there on an island and things change a little bit. It's a little bit more technique. I didn't play much corner so the technique was kind of hard for me. I'm coming along with it."

It is important to note that Freeman is not an athlete posing as a football player. His track prowess may be more refined at this point, but Freeman has the makings of a fine cornerback. He is a physical player and appears to have the requisite instincts to eventually thrive. With time, and continued improvement—which he has shown in bowl practices—he could be a key cog in the Badgers' secondary.

"From camp I've progressed a lot," Freeman said. "There are some days, you know, you can kind of peak for a while and then sometimes you get better. I think I'm on the rise right now."

Freeman could be excused for running a little too high back in August. He switched abruptly to playing football after a summer track circuit, reminding his feet and legs what it means to be quick on the gridiron.

"Track movement and football movement, they are two different things," Freeman said. "You could be a fast track guy but you could also be really slow on the football field. It's all in your head, how you do things, and your technique makes you a little bit faster. It's a different game when it comes to running and backpedaling and all that kind of stuff on the football field."

More than anything, backpedaling caused Freeman to stumble out of the blocks. In addition to the track conversion, backpedaling was not a technique Freeman the linebacker indulged in very often.

"That was the hardest thing," Freeman said. "Around camp time, I was absolutely horrible because I was kind of doing everything standing straight up. I was backpedaling straight up and all that stuff. I started getting back in the swing of things and started getting back into football.

"I'm used to running straight up and running backwards with your shoulders down is a bit of a change from running straight up and forward…. Once I get all that down and I get comfortable, all the other things will come."

Wisconsin may need a quick learning curve for Freeman. Two of the team's top three corners—Scott Starks and Chuckie Cowans—are seniors. Junior starter Brett Bell returns, along with junior No. 4 corner Levonne Rowan. Freeman and classmates Allen Langford, Jack Ikegwuonu and Jameson Davis will compete for the nickel and dime corner roles and could press Rowan for the open starter's spot. Class of 2005 corner recruits Braxton Amy and Deante Lamar may also be in the mix.

"I'm just going to work hard," Freeman said. "Like [defensive backs coach Ron] Lee always tells me, technique is the thing that I got to work on. I'm going to dedicate all my time to working on technique. I'm going to get in, watch film and do all the things that I got to do. Hopefully I'll be one of the guys competing for that spot next season."

In the beginning of bowl practices, Freeman had the chance to work more closely with Lee than he could since fall camp. Scout team performers typically take part in position meetings and beginning-of-practice drills with their position coach, but otherwise work with a graduate assistant.

"[Lee] was just telling me to use all the time that he and I have together," Freeman said. "We don't have that much time, you know, one-on-ones. In individual and all that stuff, he tries to tell me to get all my work done in that time because once I go to the scouts, it's all about my knowledge and what I'm telling myself to do."


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