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How sitting and waiting worked wonders for UH’s Jack Freeman

After a year of serving as an understudy, Jack Freeman has solidified his position as UH football's center in 2022. | Courtesy of UH athletics

After a year of serving as an understudy, Jack Freeman has solidified his position as UH football’s center in 2022. | Courtesy of UH athletics

Transfer or sit and wait. That was the choice Jack Freeman had to make entering the 2021 football season. 

Freeman, who had been the starting center for UH during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, had lost his job due to the arrival of Lousiana Tech transfer Kody Russey, a veteran center that started 46 games for the Bulldogs. 

This came as a shock to Freeman’s system and he began to question whether or not he belonged at UH.

“I was going through a lot mentally this past year and losing my spot definitely did not help that case,” Freeman said. “I didn’t know if I was supposed to be here anymore.”

Pondering his future only further clouded Freeman’s mind as the 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound center already has a lot on his plate as his mother, who he is extremely close with, was in the midst of her battle with cancer.

“My mom is by far my biggest fan,” Freeman said. “She texts me every morning, (She) sends me different quotes or pictures or whatever it is just telling me she’s proud of me, she loves me.”

Freeman leaned on his faith through the decision-making process and ultimately took a giant risk by choosing to stay at UH because he believed it was the place he was supposed to be even if he didn’t see the field.

“I prayed about it a lot. I’m a big guy in my faith, so I think that I’m here for a reason and that Kody was brought into my life for a reason,” Freeman said.

Looking back on that decision a year later, Freeman has no doubt that staying at UH was the right choice.

“I definitely made the right decision,” Freeman said. “Learning from Kody was by far one of the best things that could have happened to me. It made me a better leader, a better person.”

Taking a step back

Something about the way Russey carried himself was different. He instantly earned his teammates’ respect from the first moment he stepped in the UH football locker room and it showed when they voted the new center a team captain.

Freeman noticed the value Russey brought to the team and was not going to let the opportunity to learn from a  seasoned veteran go to waste. And Russey didn’t hold anything back, imparting all the wisdom he had gained over his years as a college athlete onto Freeman,

“I was willing to give him all the knowledge I know about the game. Technique, how I prepare mentally and physically,” Russey said. “It was all up to him for believing in me, listening to me and continuing to put the work in.”

Freeman took note of how Russey did things both on and off the field, soaking in as much knowledge as he could to not only make him a better football player but a better person. 

“There’s a lot of aspects (Russey) brought out in me that I didn’t even know (I had),” Freeman said.

This was the first time in Freeman’s college career that he truly had a chance to step back and take things slowly.

When Freeman arrived at UH, he redshirted and saw action in one game. When Dana Holgorsen arrived at UH in 2019, Freeman expected to have a similar role to his redshirt role because the Cougars already had a veteran center in Braylon Jones, who now plays for the Dallas Cowboys.

Little did Freeman know, he would quickly get thrown into the fire when Jones went down with an injury in UH’s fourth game of the season.

Holgorsen didn’t want to have to throw a young Freeman into a starting role at one of the most important positions on the field but he had no other choice.

“He just wasn’t ready but we just forced him to be ready,” Holgorsen said. “We had to have him ready.”

Although getting an opportunity to play offensive line at the Division I level at such a young age made Freeman’s eyes light up, he agreed with his head coach that he wasn’t prepared for it.

“Personally, I don’t think I was ready to play yet,” Freeman said. “I was really excited to play, that’s for sure. But truth be told, I was not ready to play.”

While sitting back and learning from a true veteran like Russey was hard to swallow at first, it was the exact blessing in disguise that Freeman needed.

“Jack will be the first to tell you that Kody was the best thing to happen to him,” Holgorsen said.  ‘Just by being able to pause it a little bit and see how it’s supposed to be. Kody’s a professional by the way he attacked every week, every game … that really let Jack sit back and say, ‘OK, now I get it.’ He’s just a totally different guy at this point.”

Following in Russey’s footsteps

When Russey looks back on his one year spent with Freeman, the way that Freeman carried himself during that time really stood out.

“Looking back on it, it’s really outstanding on what he did,” Russey said. “Instead of just throwing in the towel and quitting or not caring, he still put in all the work, still prepared like he would if he was the starter.”

Fast forward to today and Freeman has solidified his spot as the Cougars’ center after catching the eyes of all his coaches during UH football’s spring workouts.

Entering the Cougars’ season opener against UTSA, Freeman feels as good as he has ever felt on the field.

“This is the best ball I’ve ever been playing,” Freeman said. “This is by far the most consistent I’ve been, the most locked in I’ve been. It genuinely brought out my love for the game and brought out the best in me.”

Even more importantly, Freeman has gone from being the mentee to the mentor to Demetrius Hunter, one of the top-rated centers in the class of 2022 according to 247Sports. Without Russey, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

“That was me to Kody last year. That was me to Braylon two years ago,” Freeman said. “It’s a really cool thing to see that Demetrius is learning under me now.”

Not only has Freeman helped out his understudy in Hunter but he has emerged as a leader in the UH locker room.

One of the biggest things Freeman learned from Russey is putting things into perspective which is why he himself has considered why he does what he does. 

Freeman doesn’t want to take another second of his time as a college athlete for granted and that starts when he steps onto the Alamodome field on Saturday.

“One thing is I try to ask the guys ‘What’s your why?’” Freeman said. “One of my biggest why’s is my family, especially my mom. I say that because every week she’s going through chemo or radiation. She’s over here doing these things while we’re over here sitting in these nice facilities, these nice seats, getting fed and playing the game we love.”

“I try to cherish that and not take that for granted every day because that’s what I was doing. I was getting very complacent. I was taking it for granted. I don’t have this time to be in college all my life and I was really taking advantage of that. That’s something that last year really put into perspective (for me),” Freeman continued.

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