Akron Beacon Journal: Freeman seeks impact with Kent State
By Stephanie Storm, Akron Beacon Journal
When Marcus Freeman preaches to his Kent State linebackers about becoming solid young men as well as solid football players this season, he's not just tossing out newly learned coach-speak.
The former Ohio State linebacker is just starting his second coaching job after spending last season as a rookie defensive quality control assistant with the Buckeyes, but his personal experiences allow him to speak sincerely from the heart.
In January, Freeman accepted a position from new coach Darrell Hazell as the KSU linebackers coach. He gladly took the position, despite knowing that he would have his work cut out for him with the graduation of Cobrani Mixon, Dorian Wood, Will Johnson and Howard Bowens.
The only starting linebacker returning for the Golden Flashes this season is junior Luke Batton. And he's not even able to participate in spring practice after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.
''Experience is the big thing with us, because we only have one
guy who played last year and he's injured,'' Freeman said. ''So we
have to find three or four guys
who haven't played but are ready to play. More so than depth, it's finding guys that can emerge and be that guy to play.''
In the mix are seniors Kyle Reese, Marc Lechlitner and Byron Tyson and sophomore C.J. Steward.
''We lost a lot of experience last year, so right now we're just trying to focus on the now,'' Lechlitner, a fifth-year senior, said. ''We're not worrying about who is starting or who isn't, we're just trying to get down to fundamental defense and focus on our play.''
Away from the field, Freeman is working just as hard to get to know his new linebackers.
''As a coach, you have to realize that you need to have an even bigger impact on them off the field as you do on the field,'' Freeman said.
''On the field stuff is only half the battle. I want to make sure they're great people and great citizens before I worry about how good of football players they are. It's not just about just what you do on this field. It's about learning lessons for life — time management, being accountable, being a tireless worker — qualities they'll use for the rest of their lives.''
When Freeman speaks of molding the whole person, he speaks from the heart. If all he'd allowed himself to be cast as is a football player, who knows where he'd be today. Because when playing football was suddenly taken from Freeman, he was glad to have been taught other skills to fall back on.
And that has allowed him to take his football dreams in another direction.
A fifth-round draft pick by the Chicago Bears in 2009, Freeman was on the practice squad of several NFL teams before he was suddenly diagnosed with an enlarged heart while undergoing a physical for the Indianapolis Colts.
Although the surprise find promptly ended his playing career, he was able to remain in football, albeit on a different path.
''I tell these guys, 'You're playing days are numbered,' '' Freeman said. ''I don't know if you'll go to the NFL or not — I thought I'd be playing in the NFL for 30 years and it ended up being one year. But the same things you learn as a football player, you have to use in the real world.''
The real world for Freeman, who is married with two young children, began last season when Freeman began his coaching career at OSU as a graduate defensive assistant.
Just a year later, Hazell contacted Freeman with another opportunity at Kent State.
''I was so excited when [Hazell] called and asked me to join him here,'' said Freeman, a native of Huber Heights who was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes. ''To come see these facilities and the opportunities here, the [potential] at Kent State is huge.''
It is the same way in which Freeman sees his linebackers. Not for what they aren't now, but for what they could be in the future.
''This spring has been all about me getting to know this group,'' Freeman said. ''Coming in, I didn't know who was going to step up or who was going to be the guy who was going to emerge from the group.
''But all I've asked them is to be tireless workers.
''I tell them every day, 'We might not have the most talent on the whole team, but we will work hard and give it all we've got.'
''So, I'm evaluating them every single day and growing as a coach right along with them.''