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Oher's coaches explain their former pupil

To better understand the Ravens' first-round draft pick, Michael Oher, a 309-pound offensive lineman from Ole Miss, we turn to those who understand him best. 

Hugh Freeze was Oher’s football coach at Briarcrest Christian School, where Oher helped his team win two state titles. Freeze followed Oher to Ole Miss in 2005 and spent two seasons as an assistant under head coach Ed Orgeron. Freeze is currently the head coach at Lambuth University in Tennessee.

Art Kehoe coached at the University of Miami for 25 years before joining Ole Miss as the offensive line coach in 2006. He was Oher’s position coach for Oher’s sophomore and junior seasons.

Freeze: I was sitting in my office the first day he came to campus. Big Tony Henderson brought him. Big Tony and I had known each other for years; he helped me with some other kids. He’d brought his son and also brought Michael along, introduced me to him that day. It was the first day he was on the Briarcrest campus. He was just a shy, meek soul. He wouldn't even raise his head to look you in the eyes to talk with you. He's come miles since then. He’s just a joy to be around.

Kehoe: He was probably better known as a basketball prospect coming out of high school. The city of Memphis has really good basketball, and he was the No. 2 player in the whole city his senior year. Even though Briarcrest is a small school, they won a state title with him.

Freeze: As far as being a first round draft pick, I’d say his junior year at Ole Miss that started seeming possible. I’ve had a lot of kids go Division 1 football, but I’d never coached a first-rounder. It was obvious to me going into the spring of his senior season that he’d be a big-time college football player. But the National Football League is the best of the best, the elite. So I wasn’t sure at that point that you could just look him and know. But I’d say around his junior year of his college career at Ole Miss, we started hearing that a lot more.

Kehoe: If the Tuohys and Hugh Freeze and the people at Briarcrest weren’t around, who knows what road he would’ve taken. What those people did for him is so overwhelming. I’m going to enjoy watching him. I called him yesterday and told him, ‘I’m so proud of you, good luck to you, and I wish you nothing but great things,’ because he’s a good kid. Don’t be surprised: He may have a little trouble like most rookies do starting off, but I think his learning curve is really accelerating.

Freeze: He’s had so little in his life. He’s just such a humble and appreciative young man. I loved the comments he made right after he was picked. He really has a concern that he doesn’t want to let down the people who show some type of trust in him. The last thing he wants to do is let the people down. He’ll fight his heart out to prove that Baltimore is right in picking him.

Kehoe: This year I went up and visited the New England Patriots for two-a-days. [Pats’ O-line coach] Dante Scarnecchia and [head coach Bill] Belichick were asking about him. I said, 'Coach, when you think of his background, most kids like that are going to be thugs, punks and in jail. But this kid's a miracle.’ And he was never a problem, there was never drugs or alcohol or anything. He always went to the study hall and made grades. He had a couple of classes he had trouble with, but most of his classes, he passed with flying colors.

Freeze: I always try to put myself in other people’s shoes. You ask yourself if you went through the same thing, would you have his attitude, his appreciation for life? I don’t know what the answer is.

Kehoe: I remember my first encounter was when I came up and coach Eddie Orgeron had us there in January with the kids, and the first thing we did was have a basketball tournament. We just went up with them and I remember this guy coming down the court and I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is an offensive lineman?’ He was just ramming the ball down. He looked like he could jump out of the gym. He’s trimmed down a lot since then. He probably was 340 or more. Each year, he’s leaned up, gotten stronger and really developed. Just watching him then, though, I remember thinking, 'This guy is a crazy athlete.' Big feet and big hands, and he moves more like a tight end or a skill player.

Freeze: The concerns [NFL teams who called] had were, No. 1, his capacity to learn. He’s a very intelligent kid, so I don’t think that’s an issue at all. No. 2, his passion for football – is this a kid who’s been given so much from the Tuohys that he doesn’t really have to have football, will he still love it? So I pointed out all the things he’s gone through and how he could’ve quit several times if he didn’t love the game. And third, they want to know about his past. I heard there were things floating around about character issues. I have no idea where that’d even come from. He’s not done anything that would cause anyone to question his character. If you’re talking about a kid who’s come from the projects, the hood, the bad place in town, yeah, he has. But what should be talked about is how he’s overcome everything and that’s given him tremendous character.

Kehoe: Michael’s such an interesting guy and anyone who’s asked me about him – the whole deal with the Tuohys and them scooping him and adopting him – he’s such a special kid. He was so raw. Coach George DeLeone had him before me, then I had him for two years, then Mike Markuson had him for a year. You could probably say he went up a letter grade each year. I don’t think he’s done. He’s so athletic, he hasn’t lifted a lot of weights and he didn’t play much football before he went to college.

Freeze: I had numerous calls from NFL teams asking that stuff. It amazes me. The first thing I would point out to them, I watched this kid in high school obviously, watched him in college – actually coached him five of those years – and not one day did he ever miss a practice, ever lay on the ground. If you want to question whether or not he grasps all the looks that he'll receive in the NFL, that's one thing. His capacity to learn that is there. But I don't see how anyone can question his toughness or his passion for the game. A guy that doesn’t have passion doesn’t get this far.

Kehoe: I think the only time there was a practice issue – or almost an issue – was when he fell off a motorcycle. And even then, he was trying to practice. He had some road rash on him, but he still wanted to be out there. He always gave good effort, and you just knew he was way different than a lot of the kids. Most kids who play college football who are big guys, I’d say 75 percent or more of them were playing at least since 9th grade, and a lot of them were little leaguers. He barely played at all, year or two at the most. So you just watched him getting better and better and better. 

Kehoe: He’s really developed a savvy part of his game. He’s always been into the competition, the toughness and the work. But now the kid’s stronger and all this experience he has – three different line coaches – you just know he’s going to do some real good things.

Freeze: Physically, I think so, I think he can contribute right away. If they have a guy --  I’m sure they have the resources in Baltimore, like any other team – but a learning specialist or something like that. I think one of the biggest keys would be someone on their staff who’s sure they understand Michael’s learning techniques. He's a very visual guy. He's better one-on-one than he is in a whole group right now – even though he's gotten a lot better at that. If they have a guy who will spend the extra time with Michael, Michael will spend the extra time with him. If he could grasp what they’re trying to get accomplished offense-wise, schemes, schematic-wise, physically he’ll be ready. No one’s going to outwork him. He’s going to get there as fast as he can, and he’ll be in tip-top shape and he’ll be ready to go. I think it’s just a matter of how fast can he catch onto what it is they’ll be doing.

Kehoe: Because I knew he really hadn’t been coached that much, I was always around. We’d be walking through hallways and I’d be talking, ‘If the corner comes on a blitz and you’re the boundary then this is what you do,’ and all this. I wanted him to get better. It was just a process. To me, this may sound stupid, but to me, he’s more like an incoming freshman right now, not an incoming rookie. I’m talking experience-wise.

Kehoe: He’s got a little chip on his shoulder. He’s out to prove himself. I saw in USA Today, he was kind of incensed about the insinuation that he was a little on the dumb side. I think he’s just a guy who’s playing catch-up really.

Freeze: It's the culmination of a lot of people's hopes and dreams for this young man. Obviously he's had to do the bulk of the work. So just to see this emotional day, to know that his dreams have been realized, was very gratifying to numerous people.

Photos: Associated Press

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