Devonta Freeman is focused — he’s always been.
From the time Freeman stepped foot on Florida State’s campus three years ago he has gone about his business with a strong work ethic and a quiet humility that have made him one of the most prolific rushers in Florida State history.
Oh you didn’t notice?
Since arriving in Tallahassee he has led Florida State in rushing during two of his three seasons (his freshman and junior years — he was 27 yards off the mark as a sophomore) and last season Freeman was the first Seminole rusher to eclipse 1,000 yards since Warrick Dunn did it back in 1996.
He leaves the school tied for third all-time in rushing touchdowns (30) and 8th all-time in career rushing yardage (2255).
But was he ever fully appreciated by Florida State fans?
“I wish he could have been appreciated a little more,” said former FSU RB Chris Thompson in a moment of candor. Then he hedged a little, adding, “the fans are great here though.”
Sadly, there was always something obscuring Freeman — whether it was his backfield-mate James Wilder Jr., Thompson’s gutsy return from a career threatening back injury or Jameis Winston bursting on to the scene — he was never given the distinction by Seminoles fans as one of the cornerstones of those Seminole teams.
Even though he was.
None of that matters to Freeman though. It’s never mattered. The 5-9 back from Miami’s Pork’N’Beans project has always had a business-like attitude.
It’s something he attributes largely in part to his head coach, Jimbo Fisher, a man that Freeman admits he is eternally grateful to.
“He told us, man, ‘it’s a business, never put any limitations on yourself or stuff like that.’” Freeman recounted at FSU’s recent Pro Day. “Coach Jimbo just helped us out. He helped me out. He changed my life, put it that way. I don’t tell a lot of people this — I told him once or twice — but he changed my life. Without him, man, I’d probably still be in the projects somewhere, you never know, without me coming to this program.
“It helped me out a lot.”
Freeman’s had a rough life. He was essentially asked to become the head of his household at 13, he grew up amidst crime and poverty, he has been forced to deal with more than his fair share of deaths and illness in his family. Yet, quite remarkably, he’s never become bitter or jaded by it.
“You just have to be humble, remain humble and keep working. Just keep working at your craft, you always can do something better,” said Freeman. “I feel like you should just keep working, keep working, never stop. Only way you should stop is if God calls you and says, ‘you can’t do nothing else anymore.’”
Added Fisher: “His heart is about as genuine as the day is long. There is not a bad bone in his body. He is a team guy. He’ll do whatever you ask him. ‘You want me to block, coach? You want me to catch the ball? You want me to go stand out there at wide out?’ He’ll do whatever he [needs to] and he’s just a tremendous football player and more importantly he’s tremendous teammate and competitor. He understands the importance of being a great teammate that way and he affects the guys on his team. I could go on and on about him but whatever you want him to do and however you want him to do it he says, ‘yes sir’ and goes 100 miles per hour.”
And even if Seminole fans may have never fully appreciated him while he was wearing garnet and gold, he’s going to make some NFL team very happy. So far the feedback he’s been receiving from various teams has been good.
“Talking to a lot of guys they tell me how many responsibilities I took on, how I’m a grown man and stuff like that. Can I play for them? Will I be ready to play for them when it’s time to play?All kind of things like that. Just a lot of good feedback, feedback that I want to hear, it isn’t anything negative or stuff like that,” said Freeman, before adding. “They’re also telling me stuff I don’t want to hear too so I know I need to work at that.
“I want to hear everything that’s wrong with me, because that’ll help me. That’ll help me be a better person or a better athlete. Whatever it takes. I should always want to hear something that I don’t want to hear. I should always want to be better.”
It’s that attitude — ‘don’t be bitter, be better’ — that will likely carry Freeman, who is projected as a second day draft pick, to success in the NFL. Chris Thompson, his old teammate (now a member of the Washington Redskins), certainly thinks so.
“He’ll prove himself,” said Thompson. “He’s about to go on to the NFL and he’ll be great.”
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