Blue and Gold Illustrated

January 2022*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 21 of 63

22 JANUARY 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE A mong the hundreds of team- mates, players and coaches who worked alongside and grew to know Marcus Freeman during the last 25 years or so, know that Jim Tressel understands the new Notre Dame head coach better than any of them. Tressel — the former national cham- pionship head coach at Ohio State in 2002 — both recruited Freeman to Co- lumbus as a 2004 Parade High School All-American linebacker and later in- vited his former defensive star back to the Buckeyes to help coach as a graduate assistant in 2010. "He was an easy guy to recruit be- cause he wasn't looking for any assur- ances or anything like that," recalled Tressel, in an exclusive interview with Blue & Gold Illustrated. "He was just looking for an opportunity." Tressel — now serving as the Presi- dent of Youngstown State University in northern Ohio — explained that in the same way most wide-eyed, incoming college freshman view football and life, Freeman didn't factor patience into his developmental equation. "These young guys read the game programs, they look at the sizes of the guys on the team, and they think, 'Oh my gosh, I've got to get bigger,'" Tressel said with a laugh. "That was Marcus." So, after committing out of Wayne High School near Dayton to play for Tressel at Ohio State, Freeman went to work to make a freshman splash and an immediate impact … apparently, at the buffet table. Asked for more detail, Tressel joked that Freeman arrived as an early enrollee freshman in January 2004 about 10 pounds heavier than his optimal weight. "We recruited him as a linebacker, but he came in looking like a guy that could put his hand on the ground [as a defensive lineman]," Tressel said of his pudgy but sturdy 6-foot-2, 240-pound, borderline five-star recruit. "He had gotten so big, I always teased him after- ward that he tried to eat his way into the starting lineup." Youthful blissfulness and impa- tience behind, Freeman quickly real- ized that there's a process beyond burritos to earning playing time, and the No. 3-rated overall recruit in Ohio reached every expectation and became a second-team All-Big Ten linebacker for the Buckeyes in 2008, and one of the most impressive student-athletes Tres- sel said he ever coached. "Once Marcus realized what he needed to do, he just went to work," Tressel explained. "He was always where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do. Marcus was always responsive to growing in ev- ery way. He was a joy to coach." And the appreciation and respect re- main mutual. During an interview with ESPN's "College GameDay" shortly after his promotion to Notre Dame head coach, Freeman, 35, was asked who most helped launch his quick coaching rise. "It starts with my college football coach being Jim Tressel," Freeman re- sponded. "Coach Tressel was an un- believable leader and an unbelievable mentor for me as a young person." Player and coach were reunited at Ohio State in 2010 after Freeman — a fifth-round selection of the Chicago Bears in the 2009 NFL Draft — retired from football because of an enlarged heart condition, and was hired by Tres- sel as a graduate assistant. The entry-level opportunity became the launch point to Freeman's coach- ing career that took him to Kent State, Purdue, Cincinnati and 12 years later, landed him the top job at Notre Dame. ACCELERATED DEVELOPMENT Attitude and upbringing lifted Marcus Freeman to coaching heights Freeman, a 2004 Parade High School All-American linebacker, excelled as a three-year starter at Ohio State and played briefly in the NFL before an enlarged heart condition forced a career change. PHOTO COURTESY OHIO STATE ATHLETICS

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