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Former Cavalier makes his voice heard

By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY

Daily News

He felt a calling, a desire to speak out, to make his voice heard.

Michael Freeman, a Callaway High graduate and a senior football player at Mercer University, has never been one to sit idly by and keep his opinions and beliefs to himself.

So over the past week or so, during a tumultuous time in the country following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, Freeman has been outspoken on social media about that incident, and race relations in the country.

“With everything going on right now, it really hurt my heart to see how a lot of people felt toward this issue, and the blatant disregard for human life,” said Freeman, who’ll be a senior linebacker for Mercer this fall.

For Freeman, this mission is nothing new.

Following his arrival at Mercer after graduating from Callaway in 2017, Freeman soon realized what direction he wanted to go with his life.

“When I got to school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to major in,” Freeman said. “After a lot of time and thinking on it, I found that I had a real passion for sociology. A lot of sociology has to do with social movements like the civil-rights movement, the gay-rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement. I just felt really drawn to things like that. I felt like my purpose in life, my calling was to make a change for others.”

Freeman appreciates the freedom he and his teammates have been given by Mercer head coach Drew Cronic to speak their mind, to express their thoughts without fear of negative pushback.

“I talked to my head coach about it, and I talked to all my coaches about it actually, and we had a deep conversation,” Freeman said. “We had a team conversation, and everyone got the chance to talk, and they really showed that they support us in our fight. I’m a black man in America, and this is the place that I want to raise my children. I want them to have a bright future. It was something I felt really passionate about. I felt it was my place to step up and speak out.”

While Freeman is looking forward to his post-college journey and the opportunity to make a difference in the world, he has some unfinished business at Mercer.

Freeman is preparing for his final season as a college-football player, and he’ll be a key member of the defense as one of the most experienced players on that side of the ball.

Freeman, after helping lead Callaway to the state semifinals as a senior in 2016, played in 11 games as a freshman in 2017 and had seven tackles, including two for loss.

Freeman’s role expanded in 2018 when he played in 10 games with 37 tackles, with four for loss, and he had 31 tackles in 12 games last season.

Following the 2019 season when Mercer went 4-8, Bobby Lamb departed as the head coach, and Drew Cronic was tabbed as his replacement.

Freeman has enjoyed getting to know Cronic and the other new coaches over the past few months, and he welcomes their professionalism.

“These coaches, it’s business-like,” Freeman said. “You have to do things right in all aspects, not just on the football field. We have to be in class every day, we have to make sure we’re dressing right every day. You’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing Mercer University, and your family as well. It was a completely different change of trajectory, but it’s something I think we needed.”

Freeman is hopeful that his senior season as a college player will be similar to the experience he had in his final go-around as a high-school athlete.

The 2016 football season was a memorable one for Callaway, which went 13-1 and reached the semifinals of the state playoffs before losing to Benedictine.

During a third-round playoff game that season, Callaway went on a 98-yard touchdown drive in the closing moments to beat Screven County 35-34.

“Whenever I talk to someone from that team, or from high school period, we always talk about that game in particular, and we talk about the season as a whole,” said Freeman, who was a linebacker and tight end on that 2016 team. “It was something fun. That brotherhood that we had that year is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to find anywhere else. I’ve never been as close to a group of guys who weren’t blood-related to me. It meant the world to me. It’ll stay with me forever.”

When it came time to choose a college, Freeman took his time, weighed his options, and decided Mercer was the place for him.

It was an adjustment for Freeman, both as a football player, and as a student.

“I didn’t really know what to expect when I went there,” Freeman said. “It was a complete change of scenery from what I was used to in LaGrange. It was completely different, but it was an experience I needed in my life. I got to go to a place where everyone was the smartest kid in their high school. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t one of the smartest kids in the class room when I went somewhere. It showed me how I had to elevate myself to a level in order to fit in, or I was going to fall by the wayside.”

On the gridiron, Freeman also soon found out that he would have to up his game as well.

“In high school, I was always playing off a lot of athletic ability, just being bigger and faster than a lot of guys,” Freeman said. “Going to Mercer, it’s a Division I program, and I was with a lot of guys that were bigger, faster, and way more athletic. I had to learn the game more, and respect the game a lot more. You can’t just expect to be better than anyone without putting the adequate preparation in. It really showed me a different side to a lot of things.”

One thing Freeman has always been able to count on is the unequivocal support of his family, including his football-playing brothers, his younger brother Landon, and his parents Charles and Keisha Freeman.

KeShun Freeman was an all-state defensive lineman at Callaway who went on to start for four seasons at Georgia Tech, and he has played professional football in three different leagues.

Jacob Freeman was a quarterback and wide receiver at Callaway, and he’ll be a freshman on the Georgia State football team this fall.

“It means so much,” Freeman said of the family support. “There were times I didn’t know how I’d get through certain things. Without their support, I don’t know how I would have made it. I’m forever grateful for that.”

Freeman’s number one fan is his mother, and he said she helps give him the strength to always make his voice heard.

“My mother has always ingrained in us that it’s important for us to vocalize things that others can’t, or to be a voice for the unheard,” Freeman said.