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Midway through his freshman year, now El Cerrito junior athlete Robert Freeman made the rare move.
Head football coach Jacob Rincon saw something special in Freeman right from the start. On a senior heavy varsity team, Rincon knew he could add another piece to the puzzle in what appeared to be a sensational season.
Rincon loved everything about Freeman. His attitude. His competitive spirit. His talent.
Simply put, Freeman possessed everything.
“I was like, ‘You know what? We need that on the team. We need to add a little more depth because some of the guys were kind of getting a little banged up,’” Rincon said. “I brought him up, and he came through for us in the time of need.”
And, like Rincon said, Freeman came through during that first varsity season as a young freshman.
El Cerrito went on an incredible run. The Gauchos compiled a 9-4 overall record, captured a Tri-County League crown and advanced all the way to the North Coast Section Division III semifinals.
Freeman was contributing on a roster that featured a slew of players that went to FBS schools, including receiver cornerback Armauni Archie (Washington State), Malikhi Miller (San Jose State) and receiver Makai Polk (Cal).
“Robert Freeman is going to be a three-and-a-half, four-year varsity guy, so he’s one of those guys too that played in the semifinal game and he played in the playoffs and had that competition,” Rincon said. “Robert Freeman has matured and grown a lot from the past experience. He’s seen other seniors, and he’s gotten a lot of quality reps, so that’s why last year when he did the things he did it wasn’t a surprise for us because we’ve seen it in practice.”
Once his sophomore season rolled around, Freeman really shined against some of the Bay Area’s top programs.
He had 1,200 all-purpose yards and 16 touchdowns en route to first team all-league honors. He had six interceptions and garnered Defensive Player of the Year recognition in the Tri-County League.
“That showed me I could really go far,” Freeman said. “Colleges started looking at me. They started hitting me up. I got offered by ASU, UCLA started sending me stuff. Colorado, Cal. That really opened it up for me. I started getting invited to camps, became a three-star. That really helped.”
All of this success has come despite Freeman – who came in at No. 35 in the Xclusive Speed Top 45 Powered by West Coast Preps – not being the prototypical size as a star athlete who boasts a Pac-12 offer.
At 5’7”, Freeman just has a knack for scoring and a knack for making plays no matter what position he’s at.
“I could see him going DI and obviously being an El Cerrito legend there, making an impact in the community,” Rincon said. “I could see him going off to play Division I football and competing and having a chip on his shoulder. He’s not 6’4″. He’s not 6-foot, so his height, he uses that as an inspiration and pushes him because he knows that’s what is against him right now, but he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m a football player and what matters is what’s in between my chest cavity.’”
What Freeman shows his teammates is that it’s not the size of the athlete that matters. Instead, it’s the size of the heart that matters – something he boasts a lot of and that rubs off onto everyone on the Gauchos roster.
“It motivates a lot of kids,” Rincon said. “A lot of kids, the same height or even shorter, they’re just like, ‘Hey, I need to play like that. I need to work harder.’ They see Robert Freeman’s work ethic and they’re like, ‘Well, I need to do the same thing.’ Again, it’s a tumbleweed. It’s a domino effect.”
But, although he’s dominated every which way, Freeman is staying grounded. He’s humble at his core, always working for something more and emphasizing what it means to be a student-athlete with a GPA above a 3.6.
All he wants is to take his team even further than they’ve gone during his first two seasons – the first being that NCS semifinals campaign and the second being a three-way tie for first place in the league standings in addition to an NCS quarterfinals trip.
“We really want to go to state,” Freeman said. “We’ve got probably about like six seniors, and we want to take them to state. And the rest of us are juniors and sophomores. But we want to take them to state. Our goal in the preseason is we get all them teams. We’ve got to beat them. We’ve got to. That’s what we’re really focused on.”
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