‘Infectious’ Notre Dame Football Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman’s Passion, Drive Inspire Those Around Him


The one time Jay Minton questioned Marcus Freeman was earlier than he met him.

Someday in 2000, Minton peered out a window of his home and noticed a boy about, oh, 14, heading to fish on the close by pond. Alongside him was Michael Freeman, a beginning defensive again for Minton on the soccer group at Wayne Excessive College in Huber Heights, Ohio, close to Dayton. Minton requested his daughter who he was.

Her response: “That’s Marcus Freeman.”

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Marcus Freeman's ability to connect with players has propelled his coaching career.

Marcus Freeman’s skill to attach with gamers has propelled his teaching profession. (UC Athletics)

Minton perked up. That’s Marcus Freeman? A reputation Minton had heard in passing due to his soccer expertise was actually this eighth-grader with little definition to him and a “roly poly” physique?

“I wasn’t certain he’d have the ability to play for us,” Minton mentioned of his preliminary impression, laughing on the concept. “I’m glad I instructed that solely to my daughter. I might’ve seemed like an actual turkey.”

Freeman, it seems, confirmed as much as practices that fall wanting the half and compelled his method onto the sphere. By midseason of his freshman 12 months, he was a beginning varsity defensive finish. When his Wayne profession ended, he was a top-40 recruit headed to Ohio State to play linebacker who additionally moonlighted at fullback and punted his senior 12 months. An indispensable piece.

As soon as Minton lastly met Freeman after that preliminary size-up, none of it was too stunning. Neither is every little thing that has occurred since. He ponders an 11-season teaching profession that has led Freeman, 35, to Notre Dame as this system’s new defensive coordinator and thinks, sure, that’s about proper.

“There’s no secret to the success he’s having,” Minton mentioned. “That’s Marcus. That’s who he was going to be, who he was destined to be.”

Freeman retains elevating his personal inventory due to his skill to raise others. He has demonstrated a knack for milking essentially the most out of his gamers and an allergy to underachieving. In 4 years as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator, he helped form the Bearcats’ protection into one of many nation’s best all-around items that fueled a 31-6 file from 2018-20.

A pointy schematic thoughts and distinct educating expertise are two important elements of his rise. However Freeman can be right here as a result of he has merely been himself. “Infectious,” as Minton places it when summing up the fervour, competitiveness and drive he has noticed for greater than 20 years. Relationships with gamers and a capability to encourage them are a pure byproduct, simply as they have been when he roamed central Ohio’s highschool soccer fields.

“When he’s on the sphere as a teammate, you’re going to play higher and nearly as good as you may play,” Minton mentioned. “He simply set the bar excessive as a pacesetter for his group.”

“He’s so good at praising the folks round him, whether or not it was a participant, teammate, coach,” added Darrell Hazell, who gave Freeman his first full-time job at Kent State in 2011. “He’s at all times going to provide optimistic reinforcement. That’s the place infectious conduct is available in. He’s simply so supportive.”

Paving His Path

Freeman’s thoughts was made up, it doesn’t matter what mentor Luke Fickell tried to inform him. In 2010, his NFL profession over after a 12 months resulting from an enlarged coronary heart situation, Freeman referred to as Fickell — his place coach at Ohio State from 2004-08 — and mentioned he needed to interrupt into teaching. They met in Fickell’s workplace early the subsequent morning.

“I keep in mind moving into and the very first thing he mentioned was, ‘You don’t need to do that,’” Freeman said in a December interview with Cincinnati play-by-play announcer Dan Hoard.

Freeman wouldn’t hear it.

“You may’t discuss me out of this,” he mentioned. “It’s what I need to do.”

A competitor of Freeman’s degree wanted one thing the place he might win. The door had closed on taking part in soccer. The entry to teaching was open, and he ran by it. He may lead. He might take folks to new locations — with a whistle and whiteboard as an alternative of pads and a helmet.

“Marcus understood, ‘That is what has occurred to me,’” Minton mentioned. “‘I can’t management that. If I might, it could be completely different. It’s destiny. That is the route I’ve to go.’”

After a 12 months as Fickell’s graduate assistant, Hazell employed Freeman as linebackers coach when he turned the top coach at Kent State. Hiring Freeman was neither a real determination nor danger for Hazell, who was round him all 5 years at Ohio State because the Buckeyes’ receivers coach. He additionally had Freeman on his kickoff return group. At practically each flip teaching him and in six years working collectively, Freeman’s boundless enthusiasm and starvation struck Hazell.

“I’d had him over at my home and we’d battle if it was ping pong, the pool table, shuffleboard,” Hazell mentioned. “We have been going to compete. Whether or not he was dripping in sweat on the finish of a ping pong recreation or no matter it is perhaps, that’s what’s in his fiber.”

He produced, too. Kent State went 12-Four within the Mid-American Convention in Hazell and Freeman’s two years there and received the league’s East Division in 2012. A protection constructed on producing havoc leaned on linebackers Luke Batton and C.J. Malauulu, who turned All-MAC picks in 2011 and 2012 after Freeman’s arrival. Per Hazell’s firsthand account, Freeman produces outcomes as a result of he’s sincere, inspiring quite than intimidating, with a private contact.

“He’s extra of an encourage you coach versus chew you out,” Hazell mentioned. “He has no downside getting on you should you’re not hustling. However gamers will love him as a result of they’ll really feel that he’s at all times of their nook.

Marcus Freeman was a standout Ohio State linebacker from 2004-08 and a fifth-round draft pick.

Marcus Freeman was a standout Ohio State linebacker from 2004-08 and a fifth-round draft decide. (AP Photograph/Terry Gilliam)

“He’s good with the group, however actually distinctive with the person.”

The 4 years at Purdue from 2013‑16 produced dreary information however a couple of standout linebackers. Considered one of Freeman’s first signees, Ja’Whaun Bentley, was a USA In the present day Freshman All-American in 2014 and later turned a fifth-round draft decide. In Freeman’s closing season, redshirt freshman linebacker Markus Bailey was an honorable point out All-Huge Ten choice and later became a seventh-rounder.

At Cincinnati, Freeman’s protection shifted from a Four-Three to a Four-2-5 to primarily a Three-Three-5 alignment. It’s a multiple-front protection that was designed to be adaptable to the varied kinds of offenses within the American Athletic Convention. No matter kind it took, its identification was rooted in aggressiveness, creating confusion and producing turnovers.

The Bearcats had the expertise to decelerate the explosive offenses they confronted, however in watching them, their assignment-soundness stands out. That’s a mirrored image of teaching, the place gamers aren’t swimming in complicated terminology they’ll’t keep in mind.

“The final man understands it in addition to the primary man,” Hazell mentioned. “They’ll be easy for the protection, however advanced for the offense.”

‘He May Recruit Moss Off A Rock’

School soccer recruiting is a cauldron of self-absorption, inflated egos, phony personalities and snake oil gross sales. As a prospect, it’s best approached with skepticism and warning. Freeman, although, draws strong reviews as a result of — this may sound acquainted — he’s simply himself, with a dentist-office-poster smile and youthful looseness.

“All conversations thus far have been nothing however real and actual,” mentioned Sebastian Cheeks, a top-100 class of 2022 recruit from Evanston, Sick. “What stands out about him is he received’t sugar coat. He’s right down to earth and is actually capable of join with you.”

Freeman’s outcomes at Cincinnati are simple. Earlier than leaving, he had already landed a pair of nationwide top-250 prospects within the 2022 class. The Bearcats signed the highest Group of 5 class in 2021, 2020 and 2018, with a quartet of four-star defensive signees in there. They routinely beat Energy 5 packages for recruits. Since his Jan. eight hiring at Notre Dame, he has already despatched out two linebacker gives.

“He has lived their lives lots nearer than lots of people have along with his age, taking part in skill, all the opposite issues concerned,” Hazell mentioned.

Solely just lately, although, had Freeman begun to succeed in past the Midwest and into the highest 250 with some frequency at Cincinnati. Now, with a Notre Dame brand on his chest when on the path, he will probably be anticipated to signal prime recruits who school soccer’s ruling class covets.

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General, Freeman is tasked with retaining the Irish’s protection performing on the degree Lea introduced it to whereas additionally including a couple of extra blue-chip recruits to its expertise reserves.

It’d be unwise to doubt his participant growth skill, contemplating his rise is fueled by lifting up others to a beforehand unimagined degree.

In the meantime, dialogue round his recruiting potential has the tune of excitable impatience, like children daydreaming about their potential Christmas presents. It’s much less a query of if Freeman can advance Notre Dame’s recruiting operation, however how far.

“When these guys are available a room, have they got it or do they not?” Minton mentioned, recalling Freeman’s first go to to Wayne as a recruiter. “Are they unusual or are they a bit above? Marcus was lots above. I do know he was strolling into my workplace and his outdated highschool, however I heard it from different [high school coaches] too. He might recruit moss off a rock.”

If all of it works, Freeman will not be lengthy for South Bend. He’s open about his final aim of turning into a head coach. If he rises to that new degree, it can doubtless be the results of pulling Notre Dame’s protection up with him. Ought to the prospect come, he has one staffer already dedicated.

“I instructed him on a regular basis that once you get a head job,” Minton mentioned. “I need to come clear jock straps for you.”

Twenty years later, there’s solely religion in him.

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