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Marcus Freeman: Backup tight end steps into starting role with success

Kate Gales | Friday, November 17, 2006

The outcome of the game wasn’t really in doubt, but that didn’t make Marcus Freeman’s touchdown catch last Saturday against Air Force any less impressive.

Freeman had logged just three starts in 10 games this season, all when the Irish were in multiple tight-end sets.

But when first-team tight end John Carlson went down with a knee injury early against the Falcons, Irish coach Charlie Weis had no doubts about the backup’s ability to step into a starting role.

“He’s been solid all year,” Weis said. “It’s just that a lot of balls haven’t come in his direction. So a lot of times when a guy doesn’t have a whole bunch of catches, people correlate that with not having a good year.”

Freeman came into the Air Force game with three catches in 2006. He had a 10-yard grab against Georgia Tech, a 2-yarder against Penn State and a 25-yard catch against Stanford. The 23-yard catch from quarterback Brady Quinn in the end zone of Falcon Stadium last Saturday was his first career touchdown.

The touchdown wasn’t the only part of his play that stood out to Weis, though.

“He has the catch for the touchdown as his one catch for the day,” Weis said. “[But] the fact that John went down – when you have a guy that’s been playing really well like John has been, and he goes down, a lot of times, it’s a little disheartening and sometimes a team gets rattled a little bit.”

In the previous three years, Freeman had five catches for 50 yards. He redshirted in 2002, his freshman year. His career high in receptions came at BYU in 2004, when he caught three balls.

The St. Paul, Minn. native started playing football at an early age, as well as soccer, basketball and T-ball. His uncle coached a team for third and fourth graders and convinced Marcus’ mother to let him come out for the team.

“Mothers don’t want their kids getting hurt,” he said. “She does [still worry about me], especially in camp and when it’s hot outside. She always worries.”

As his career continued, though, the support of his parents was important. They come to many of his games, including away.

His parents have seen Freeman’s many position changes. He started out playing running back, and moved to offensive line.

By his freshman year at Cretin-Durham Hall in St. Paul, Freeman settled in at tight end.

“I tried out for wide receiver and my freshman coach actually moved me to tight end,” he said. “It’s really versatile. You become an offensive lineman at times and at other times you can be a receiver down the field making plays.”

Freeman has experienced both of those roles with the Irish, although he has been primarily used as a blocking tight end.

“I really like [both aspects of being a tight end],” he said. “My career, I’ve been pretty much just blocking, I’ve grown to like and love blocking, but I also love receiving the ball and getting downfield and making plays.”

He came to Notre Dame because of the combination of athletics and academics, citing the high graduation rate of Irish players as a selling point. Current Irish offensive lineman Ryan Harris and former Irish fullback Rashon Powers-Neal both attended Cretin-Durham with Freeman.

As the season winds down, Freeman has found himself in more of a spotlight role. But he is also focused on the future. He said he “aspires to the NFL” and thinks that his time at Notre Dame – including the emotional and difficult coaching change in 2004 – may help him in that goal.

“You get to experience two totally different guys, two different personalities, two different coaching styles,” he said. “I think everybody here aspires to go to the NFL, when you have experience with different head coaches, you’re that much more prepared to go to the next level and deal with coaches at the next level.”

Off the field, Freeman is known to play NCAA football video games, though never playing with Notre Dame. He also played in Notre Dame’s Bookstore Basketball tournament, making it to the Sweet 16.

“I like to have fun,” he said. “Guys who know me know I like to joke around, but people that don’t know me or meet me for the first time or just cross paths … maybe see me as a shy guy or a quiet guy, but I like to have fun, I like to joke around with Rhema [McKnight], Ryan Harris.”

As Freeman steps into the role of starting tight end this weekend against Army and next week against USC, Weis expressed confidence in his ability.

“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 like Marcus stepping in, I think that everyone on the team has total confidence that Marcus can perform,” he said.