Freeman wants to be vocal leader Tigers need

by - Senior Writer -
Dalton Freeman at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst, N.C.

Dalton FreemanDalton Freeman
Offensive Line
#55 6-5, 285
Pelion, SC

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admits he has come a long way from the awestruck high school senior who stood before legendary Penn St. coach Joe Paterno and, by his own admission, froze.
Clemson will be counting on Freeman to not freeze this season as he helps anchor an experienced offensive line that will be the lynchpin for Chad Morris’ new offense, and his work over the past two seasons hasn’t gone unnoticed.

The Pelion, S.C., native is on the watch list for the Rimington Award, given annually to the nation’s top center, and he is also on the watch lists for the Lombardi Award [given to the nation’s top offensive or defensive lineman] as well as the Outland Trophy , which goes to the country’s top interior lineman.

Freeman was one of two Clemson players at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst, N.C., this past week, and shook his head when comparing where he is now to the scared kid in Paterno’s office on a recruiting trip.

“We went into Coach Paterno’s office, and you are like ‘Wow, that is Joe Paterno’ who is this legend in college coaching,” Freeman said. “He looked over at me, and he told me he hadn’t seen me play, and he hadn’t watched any game tape of me. Then he got down in a three-point stance, and he said ‘Bring it on big boy, let’s see what you’ve got.’ I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I looked over at my dad, and he gave me the old go ahead look.”

Freeman didn’t try to bowl Paterno over, nor did he wind up in State College, Pennsylvania. Instead, he chose Clemson and hasn’t stopped bowling people over since he arrived on campus. Freeman moved into a starting role during his freshman season, and he told reporters in Pinehurst that even though he is still the youngest starter on the line, he feels right at home.

“It kind of feels natural,” Freeman said. “I’ve been playing for two years now. When I first stepped in as a freshman, I was kind of feeling like this young rookie. But now that I have experience, I’ve run along with those guys, grown up with them, watched film with them, gone through the battles with them, worked day-in, day-out. I really feel like we don’t look at it as age; we look at it as brothers.”

Freeman said that he feels like last year’s team lacked a true vocal leader, and that new offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has challenged him to be ‘that guy.’

“He’s definitely challenged me as well as coach Swinney, other coaches, that ‘you are that guy,’” Freeman said of Caldwell. “You’ve got to go out there every day and be that physical leader, but also that vocal leader. You’ve got to lead by example, but you’ve got to bring everyone else up around you. When it’s hot in August and we’re going through two-a-days, you’re not going to want to pick everybody up, but you’ve got to.”

That stands in contrast to the wide-eyed freshman who was asked to take over as a starter midway through Clemson’s ACC Atlantic Division championship run two seasons ago.

“When I first took over, I was kind of looking around for everyone else to pull me up,” he said. “Now I’m that guy. I’ve paid my dues, I’ve been there four years, I’ve been through all the battles with and they respect me for that. Now that I have their respect, I’ve been there with them, it’s a little easier to come by.”

And how has he responded to Caldwell’s prodding?

“I’m trying to be a little more of a vocal leader,” he said. “I’ve always been a lead-by-example guy, and I think people respect me, for my work ethic, stuff like that. This summer I’ve tried to be more verbal. We’ve got a very veteran group of offensive linemen but a young core on our team. I’m trying to step up vocally, lead them, and bring them home. We have a chance to do something special and we want them all on board.

“You have to get out of your comfort zone and really stretch yourself. Instead of being complacent, get better. Whether that’s in the meeting room, the classroom, no matter where it is, just try and get better in all aspects. There’s a difference in being a good player and a great player, and that’s what we’re really trying to push.”

Freeman said he sees special things on the horizon for his Tigers, simply because the leadership is finally matching the talent, and he wants to help take this team as far as it will go.

“It’s not about the talent, because the talent is there,” he said. “The question is, can we come together? I think we can.”

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