GILMER — Pine Tree quarterback D.J. Freeman has a quiet confidence. You might call him a silent assassin on the football field.
Last year as a sophomore, Freeman took District 9-5A by storm. Opposing defenses viewed him a lot like a keg of dynamite. And he exploded on multiple occasions.
Under the blazing hot sun and mid-90 degree temps at the 13th Annual East Texas Passing Academy Wednesday afternoon, Freeman patiently toiled away in an effort to make his junior season even better than his sophomore experience.
“I’ve got to get better passing the ball,” Freeman admitted. “That’s something I know can be improved. And I have improved with spring ball and summer workouts.”
Kerry Lane, entering his fourth year as Pirate head coach, said Freeman’s fierce drive and determination are what make him the player he is and what will make him the player he is to become.
Freeman didn’t wilt under the bright lights. Far from it. He stepped in against Bullard in his first varsity experience and completed four of seven passes for 136 yards and 3 TDs. The Pirates rolled to a 63-40 season-opening win that evening.
“The first thing that stands out about D.J. is he’s just a winner. He finds a way to win and has a confidence about himself. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands,” said Lane, who named Freeman starter last year in week two against Pittsburg.
Freeman’s performance against Hallsville in week four certainly caught the attention of East Texas. All he did in Pirates’ 55-35 win over the rival Bobcats was rush for 184 yards, score three times and pass for 127 yards with a touchdown.
Big things can come in small packages and Freeman proves that true. Standing just 5-9 and weighing 150 pounds, Freeman plays like a giant to belie his stature.
“He’s a really strong kid,” said Lane. “He’s a 400-pound squatter. My deal with kids that are small is they’ve always been small. He don’t play like he’s small, he just plays and plays well.”
While Freeman was sharpening his passing skills at the annual Gilmer camp this week, he was coming off a solid showing at the Texas A&M-Commerce camp this past weekend. It was there he spun the ball well and clocked an impressive 4.4 in the 40, drawing strong interest from the coaches at A&M-Commerce.
“D.J. is a player. Size not withstanding, he can play at several different positions,” Lane said. “The camp this week has been beneficial for him because he’s been able to throw and throw some more.”
Freeman finished fifth among district quarterbacks passing with 1,171 yards on 65 of 129 and 15 TDs against only three picks. He was sixth rushing with 834 yards on 84 carries for a ridiculous 9.9 average with 10 scores.
Suffice to say Freeman will not sneak up on anyone this season. He’s no longer a secret.
“We’ve got plenty of ways to get D.J. the ball, obviously. He’s pretty good when he’s got the ball in his hands and that’s why I put him there,” said Lane. “It’ll be interesting to see what teams try to do to stop him. We’re pretty balanced offensively.”
Freeman understands the challenge in front of him. The bar of expectation has been lifted and he’s of the responsibilities that lay in store.
“Last year I was a run first, pass second. It was just natural for me. This year I will pass the ball more,” said Freeman, who has participated in the East Texas Passing Academy for three years.
“With the progress I’ve made, I’m much better passing the ball this year than I was last year. I’ve also done a lot of film study. I see mistakes I made and know they’re correctable.”
After a sophomore campaign of 2,005 yards total offense and 25 TDs, it’s kind of scary to think Freeman could be even better in his junior year. But that’s exactly what Lane and staff are counting on.
So is Freeman.