The man, the myth, the legend, Eltoro: it's true, folks. After two years wandering in the wilderness of JUCO, Eltoro Freeman is going to take the field for Auburn this fall. Just by stepping on campus, he'll become the best-named Auburn Tiger in the JCCW's humble opinion since King Dunlap departed, at the least. He's already got his own profile page up at the official site, and things should only get better from here, particularly once the fans settle behind a nickname. As "The Bull" is just way too easy, I support "The Lawnmower" or, in a nod to a classic Chris Farley bit, "The Toro."
At least, we're all assuming it's going to get better from here. Freeman has been billed as Auburn's next great linebacking prospect for so long it seems like we all know everything about him already, but just in case--and for completion's sake, since I'm still clinging to my goal of getting all of Auburn's Class of 2009 done eventually--I figured I'd give him the full-post treatment anyway.
Basics: Freeman is a 2007 graduate of Benjamin Russell H.S. in the fine, fine city of Alexander City, AL (about 15 minutes from where your humble Auburn Blogger grew up). After failing to qualify (like soooooooo many other members of that 2007 class), Freeman enrolled at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he played linebacker and helped the Bulldogs--who do not want you to confuse their logo with Michigan's, no not at all--to a share of the 2007 JUCO national title. In 2008 he redshirted and will have three years of eligibility remaining when he arrives at Auburn ... which, by the way, will be in time for spring practice.
Freeman is either 5-11 or 6-0 depending on what listing you're going by, and both recruiting services have him at 218 pounds with a fake 40 time of 4.5. So he's a slightly undersized but cat-quick outside linebacker ... gosh, why would Tommy Tuberville's Auburn teams have ever been interested in him?
Recruitnik hoo-ha: I'm not super-familiar with all the ins and outs of guru evaluation, but I think it's pretty unusual when one of the two major services has a prospect rated a full two stars ahead of the other. But that appears to be the case with Freeman, as Scout calls him a five-star prospect with Rivals only giving him three stars and a "decent" 5.6 rating. As much hype as Freeman will arrive in Auburn with, it makes you wonder if he ran over Rivals's dog or something: he also does not appear on their JUCO top-100 list, even though less-heralded Auburn JUCO recruits Nick Fairley and Cameron Kenney do.
What's perhaps even more interesting is that the divergence between the two sites occurred while Freeman was in Mississippi, because they both agreed he was hot stuff coming out of high school. Scout called him a four-star and the No. 7 middle LB in the class, while Rivals called him the No. 22 outside linebacker and also gave him four stars. I guess, putting it politely, that the Scout guys saw something during Freeman's stay at MGCCC that the Rivals guys didn't. Or that's when Freeman took out Rivals's dog. For ESPN's part, I don't think they've rated him since he left Ben Russell, but at the time they gave him a "good, not great" 77, ranked him the No. 22 OLB, and had this to say:
He lacks ideal size and is a little on the small side height wise. That being said he is an athletic prospect with good toughness. He is not afraid to step up and meet ball carriers in the hole ... Freeman is a player who gets around the ball. What he lacks in size he makes up for in quickness. He can make it tough for blockers to get a clean shot on him.His offer list out of high school was good but not mind-blowing: Tennessee (according to Scout), Ole Miss, Kentucky, Louisville. His biggest one might have come as a JUCO: after signing, Freeman claimed USC had come across with an offer. (The recruiting sites don't seem to have a record of it, so take that as you will.) At the very least, Ole Miss apparently got reinvolved during some alleged knee-jerk wavering in the wake of Willis's premature dismissal. The point: it's safe to say Auburn was not the only major program interested in signing him.
Links of Potential Interest: Hey, would you be interested in watching eight consecutive minutes of Eltoro "The Toro" Freeman highlights? Of course you would. Enjoy:
There's more highlights here, and if those get you so fired up about Freeman you're interested in watching a series of still images of him from that 2007 season set to NSFW hip-hop, you're in luck! Those are here.
Of course, whether or not his YouTube packages gets you excited for the Eltoro Freeman era at Auburn, Eltoro Freeman's excitement for the Eltoro Freeman era at Auburn should definitely get you excited, particularly since it was his curiously, wonderfully over-the-top enthusiasm in the wake of Chizik's visit that marked the first step back towards optimism after our weeks of gloom. I mean it when I say "over-the-top," though. Quotes of this kind of fervor ...
“I know a lot of people say that they don’t like him for the job because of his record at Iowa State and this and that, but I believe in Chizik and I believe in Auburn University!” said Freeman. “I absolutely believe they hired the right guy. Me and Coach Chizik and the rest of the Auburn Family, we are going to get this thing back right.”... are usually reserved for people who have just undergone a religious conversion. (WRAS added a couple more quotes here and it's also worth checking out the reaction in his Alex City Outlook signing story.) But hey, that's the kind of belief we want in our recruits, right? More power to him, and especially given the timing of Freeman's quotes, he'll always have something of a soft spot in the JCCW's Auburn heart.
Freeman was hardpressed to hold back his excitement about Chizik and signing with Auburn.
“I heard Coach Chizik has coached three Thorpe Award winners, well damn, he better get ready to coach a Dick Butkus Award winner. It’s on now!” Freeman said. “We’re coming back. Me and the boys are coming! I’m ready! WAR DAMN EAGLE! I just can’t wait to be a part of the Auburn Family.”
Unless, of course, he gets into more academic trouble. He graduated with honors from MGCCC, so hopefully all that's behind him, but it's easy to see from this 2006 Q n' A how he got in hot water in the first place:
RJ: What is your favorite thing about school?Well, no one was going to accuse him of being dishonest, were they?
Other links are honestly more difficult to come by than you'd expect--no high school profiles, no coach's quotes--perhaps because Freeman's hometown Alex City Outlook apparently doesn't do much online archiving. But there's a few things: Freeman was named to the paper's Ben Russell all-time defense; in what I'm sure will become a trend, he made a random All-Name list; and some idiot with a blog tried to argue Auburn's class of 2008 would be OK, in part, because he'd be a part of it.
What conclusions, if any, we might draw: I think it's hard to take Scout's five-star evaluation at straight face value when the other services disagree so completely, but it's not like that matters that much: we're splitting hairs between between "probably a superstar, potentially (only) a very good player" and "potentially a superstar, probably a very good player." Auburn is getting a guy who, if the optimistic projections are at all accurate (and they usually were with Tubby and linebackers, no?), should step seamlessly into the void left by Chris Evans and Merrill Johnson's departures and start for three straight seasons. If Freeman does exactly that but never blossoms into a first-day NFL draft pick the way that five-star designation implies, hey, no one's going to have any complaints.
Of course, the Raven Gray experience-to-date has probably taught us all not to count our JUCO chickens before they hatch on the field. But given how much guru respect and hype Freeman's drawn over the years and how desperate Auburn is for linebacking help at the moment, I think the odds are that "The Lawnmower" contributes Day 1 and winds up one of the best signees of Chizik's first class.