FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. — Entering tonight’s bold at New Orleans, it’s amazing how abundant the Atlanta Falcons’ blemish star, second-year alive aback Devonta Freeman, mirrors his overachieving 5-0 team.
Consider the Falcons’ alive aback ranks additional in the alliance with 405 hasty yards, admitting arena sparingly in the aboriginal two weeks. Or that he has added touchdowns (eight) than Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles combined. Or, in the Falcons’ 25-19 overtime win adjoin Washington Sunday, the 5-foot-8 and shade-over-200-pound aback pinballed for 95 yards alfresco the tackles on his way to a career-best 153-yard hasty day.
Freeman’s access assimilate the NFL arena in the aftermost three weeks—made accessible aback amateur Tevin Coleman access a rib in Anniversary 2—is all the added notable because of what a complete aback he’s been in the Atlanta system. In the aftermost three games, he’s acquired 193, 149 and 197 rushing-receiving yards. And he rarely comes out of the game, clashing some backs who leave the acreage on third down. “He has so abundant action in him” said drillmaster Dan Quinn. “He can’t aback off, anything.”
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But Freeman’s adventure doesn’t end there. The football allotment of his activity is acceptable enough. The off-field allotment adeptness be better.
After afternoon home games, on Tuesday off-days, and occasionally at the aggregation hotel, Freeman logs assimilate his laptop and posts 150-word altercation lath annotation on the causes, furnishings and anathema of stereotyping and amusing perception.
Freeman is currently enrolled in two online courses at Florida State: Amusing Psychology of Groups and Intro to Apple Cities. Upon demography his finals—sometime about Anniversary 13—he will be six credits abroad from the amount he adjourned aback declaring aboriginal for the 2014 draft. “Most guys are abashed aback see they still charge 18 credits,” LaToya Williams, his Florida State bookish advisor, said this week. “They put it off until afterwards they’re done playing. Not Devonta. He said, ‘OK, let’s activate chipping away.’ ”
Freeman contacted Williams during his amateur NFL season, and has taken courses anniversary division since—including this summer. Freeman abounding he managed the workload while he was a student-athlete. Why not now aback he has alike added time?
“Wait, so he’s currently demography classes?” Coleman said this week. “Like during the season?”
“I had no idea,” said bouncer James Stone.
“I knew,” said Quinn, “But alone because somebody told me. It’s aloof so Devonta. He doesn’t appetite to alarm absorption to himself, he aloof wants to compete. Throughout his activity he has had to affected so much, but never begin excuses, aloof tackled aggregate with amazing grit. Again all of the abrupt you accept a 23-year-old who is accessible to booty on the world.”
* * *
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Freeman, a 2014 fourth-round pick, backed-up adept Steven Jackson aftermost season. He affiliated the No. 1 role with Jackson’s absolution in February, but with a hamstring abrasion in training camp, absent it to Coleman, a rookie.
When Coleman got aching in Anniversary 2, Freeman took over. But no one saw this blemish three weeks coming. Except for a guy who has apparent this cine before.
In 2009, Florida State drillmaster Jimbo Fisher visited Miami Central Aerial School to advance Brandon Gainer, a hot alive aback prospect. Gainer wasn’t at practice, instead demography night classes to get in acceptable bookish standing. Fisher backward anyway, and couldn’t booty his eyes off the undersized inferior afire through drills. He was the best amorous amateur on the field.
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Freeman, at the time, was a zero-star recruit, not alike listed on any aloof services.
“I absolved up to the coach,” Fisher said this week, “and said, ‘That adolescent tailback? He’s bigger than the one you’re starting.’ ”
Fisher offered Freeman a scholarship that summer— “everyone anticipation we were crazy,” Fisher said—and aback Freeman bankrupt out for 2,208 yards and 26 touchdowns as a senior, Auburn and Florida and Miami, his adolescence dream college, came recruiting.
Freeman remained loyal, and aloof as intense. In Tallahassee, it was accepted for Freeman to common Fishers’ appointment afterwards practice. Once, the alive aback was somber, endlessly answer for not acrimonious up a block—in the aboriginal 10 account of practice, alike admitting he played flawlessly for the abutting hour. “I am so, so, so sorry,” Freeman said. “That will never appear again.”
Fisher’s alone response: “I know.” (“I mean, I acquainted bad anytime I got on a kid like that,” the drillmaster said. “He aloof cared so much.”)
Williams, the bookish advisor, initially anticipation Freeman would be a problem-student because it took her about two weeks to get in blow with him aback she was aboriginal hired. They played buzz tag, text-tag, and she abounding Freeman adeptness be a flake. Turns out, Freeman was in the training facility, or class—doing absolutely what he was declared to be doing, aloof didn’t consistently accept his buzz handy.
In Atlanta, Freeman stays appropriately busy. On Monday, he asked Quinn if he can do battle drills, one of his admired allocation exercises, afterwards practice. He kept a anchorman cat-and-mouse until 6 p.m. on Tuesday—five hours afterwards media availability—because besides the walk-through and position meeting, he additionally capital to go in the algid tub, and the hot tub, and get a massage, and accommodated a drillmaster one added time.
When he sat bottomward for an interview, he aboriginal apologized, adage he bare to get all his football being done first, but was blessed to break as continued the anchorman needed. He has a affable articulation that matches his adolescent face, and a convincing quality; he pulled up a armchair two inches from the reporter, and leaned in to speak.
“I don’t appetite to be average,” he said. “I don’t appetite to comedy aloof to aggregate the analysis every week—actually, I don’t alike apperceive how generally we get paid because I don’t pay absorption to it. The point is, I adulation football, and I appetite to be the best at football, and if there’s annihilation I can do to get my anatomy appropriate and be bigger I’m activity to do it.”
On the morning of the 2014 draft, Falcons abettor accepted administrator Scott Pioli alleged Fisher. Atlanta already had abounding analysis on Freeman, but capital to put one added alarm in. Fisher told Pioli: “Trust me, you won’t affliction accepting Devonta Freeman already he’s on your roster.”
* * *
As the oldest of seven children, Freeman helped his mother and grandmother as abundant as he could in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. Freeman got his aboriginal job at age 12. His longest-standing gig was at the Richardson Burial Home, area he opened the limo doors for the afflicted families and handed out flowers. He was paid $50 per funeral, sometimes alive as abounding as four per day.
He played for the Optimist Club Pop Warner team, and was accomplished by Luther (Uncle Luke) Campbell, of the rap accumulation 2 Alive Crew. Campbell mentored Freeman, alive him home from practice, agreeable the aggregation over for basin parties and alms admonition on how to break out of trouble. Campbell’s wife, Kristin, now co-represents Freeman.
Though Freeman followed their guidance, his affection backward home. Anytime he got a Pell Grant in college, he beatific best of it to his mother and grandmother to advice pay bills. At Florida State, he approved to focus alone on football, but that wasn’t consistently easy.
In 2011, he arrive his cousin, Antony Darling, to alive with him on campus. Darling and Freeman grew up arena for the aforementioned Pop Warner team, accessory the aforementioned schools and generally sleeping in the aforementioned allowance in Freeman’s home. Freeman capital to accumulate Darling out of agitation and had him break for a few months at Florida State so “he could get his arch right.”
Darling alternate to Liberty City in 2012 during Freeman’s green season. The night afterwards the Seminoles’ 52-0 win adjoin Wake Forest, Freeman was awoken by a alarm from his sister. She was wailing, her words as breathless as they were incomprehensible. Darling was dead in a gunfight. He was 20.
It was the alone time teammates anytime saw Freeman despondent: not absent to eat, not absent to talk, not absent to practice.
“No amount what, that’s why I’ll consistently go aback to Liberty City,” he says. “That’s my hood. There’s kids there who are like me, kids I can help.”
Last May, Freeman accomplished a morning conditioning in Miami and acquainted the aerial of endorphins. With time to additional afore an black session, he went to Sports Authority and bought 60 footballs, again acquaint a photo on Instagram: “Giving out footballs afore I go assignment out in the Pork n Beans Projects with my signature on it!! Aboriginal appear aboriginal served! Accommodated me on 62st and 13Av #YallComeOn.”
Nearly 100 kids showed up. “I acquainted so bad,” Freeman said. “I didn’t accept abundant for everyone. I had no abstraction I had that affectionate of impact.”
* * *
The access of first-year arch drillmaster Quinn, the above Seahawks arresting coordinator, is the better overarching storyline in the Falcons’ baking start. The 45-year-old assassin a DJ to circuit hip-hop at practice, mashes aggregation affairs with YouTube clips (MMA is a favorite), implemented his simplistic but advancing arresting schemes and stresses urgency—the closing of which was defective at the end of the Mike Smith era.
Of course, Quinn additionally affiliated a athletic quarterback (Matt Ryan), a rare-breed receiver (Julio Jones) and a able accepted manager, Thomas Dimitroff, alive in bike with adept acquaintance and above Chiefs GM Scott Pioli as his assistant.
Together, they accept accustomed Freeman the befalling to succeed. Pro Football Focus ranked the Falcons’ abhorrent band 30th in 2013 and 26th in 2014. Aftermost season, it was so ravaged by abrasion that at one point bound end Levine Toiolo lined up at appropriate tackle.
With new abhorrent coordinator Kyle Shanahan implementing a zone-blocking scheme, the Falcons confused pieces all offseason to amount out what would work. Of Atlanta’s nine abhorrent linemen, six are new this division and four—Andy Levitre, Gino Gradkowski, Bryce Harris and Jake Long—weren’t alike on the agenda for the final preseason game.
Through bristles weeks, PFF ranks Atlanta’s abhorrent band as best in the league.
Freeman’s best attributes are his vision, and adeptness to cut through accessible holes afforded by zone-blocking and access his acceleration from there. Freeman additionally splits out wide, and has 24 catches for 240 yards. His dual-threat cachet has taken some burden off the consistently double-covered Jones. Coleman is now advantageous abundant to play, and was alive in the Washington game, but Quinn affairs on activity with the hot hand, which for now is obvious.
“When you appear in, you booty inventory,” Quinn said, speaking of demography a job and analytical everybody on his roster. “Not everybody fits what you appetite to do, but we had a lot that did. Devonta Freeman is the absolute archetype of that.”
The aggregation loves arena for Quinn because he empowers them.
“You can aloof be you,” Freeman says. “Do whatever you appetite to do. All you charge to do is attempt every day, be urgent, and no excuses. It’s the easiest three rules ever.”
Because it is so easy, conceivably that is why Freeman has time to accomplishment his studies. Others may chase suit. Aback told of Freeman’s bifold life, Coleman, who larboard Indiana afterwards his inferior season, looked as if his absorption was piqued.
“Maybe I should do that too,” he said.
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