Archbishop Curley's Nicholas Freeman may be the smallest back-up nose tackle in high school football. At 5 feet 1 and 190 pounds, Freeman gives away a lot of brawn to the centers he lines up against.
But don't underestimate him. Archbishop Curley coach Sean Murphy calls him "the heart and soul" of the 3-0 Friars team that upset Loyola, 39-7, last weekend and jumped to No. 12 in The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 poll.
Freeman, a lineman since he started playing football at 10 years old, said he loves the trenches because it's where everything starts. He hopes to walk on to a college team and is considering several Maryland schools.
A die-hard Ravens, Terps and Orioles fan, the senior has a 3.4 GPA and plans to return as a sprinter on the track team after taking a year off to focus on academics
How did you get started playing football?
When I started off in Pop Warner, I actually played offensive line because my coach was like, "There's too many running backs, so there might not be a spot for you." That kind of hurt a little bit, but I was like, "You know what? I'm a team guy so I'm going to do anything I can to help out the team." I had no problem playing offensive line. I was pretty good at it.
How do you compensate for being a smaller guy in the game of football?
I know I'm not the tallest, or fastest, or biggest, strongest guy out there, but that doesn't stop me from playing the game that I love. When people look at me, they have their doubts, but once I show them what I can do, it's like, "Wow, he's a little different than what we thought he was." Being small does have its disadvantages, but I say to any kid out there who has a dream just like me to keep fighting, stay humble, work hard and your shot will come. That's all you have to do.
How big are most of the centers you face?
I'd say some guys are around 6 feet, most definitely taller than me (laughs), but I just see it as a challenge, a competition. That's what this game is all about. It's just competition, but at the same time, I'm out there having fun bumping into those big guys. I have no problem with it.
How do you get an edge on them?
I learned from my coaches simple defensive line techniques: the swim move, the rip move. You get extension on the offensive lineman, make sure he never gets his hands on you and you just keep fighting, keep your feet moving, be a smart player, stay on your feet. And one more thing – fast and physical. I learned that from Nik D'Avanzo last year.
What's your role on this team?
My role on the field is make stops, make plays. I mostly play on third down, and I enjoy it. I'm also the team captain along with Ricardo Johnson and Sal Jeppi, but I'm mostly the motivator of the team. Coach calls me "Little Ray Lewis." I'm always screaming at practice. I'm very emotional during game day. I get my guys pumped up. I get them going during practices. I just want to let the guys know it's a brotherhood, it's a family here and we're all going to go to war together every Friday or every Saturday. I love it being out there with those guys.
Did you see much action against Loyola?
Yeah, I got quite a few plays against them. I almost got a sack but the quarterback got the ball out just in time and one of my teammates, Derrick Lifsey – who plays linebacker – got the hit on him before I did. I was a little disappointed I didn't get in there and get the sack on him, but that's OK as long as I was able to get in there and get some pressure.
What did it mean to get the win over Loyola?
It was great. Where else would you rather be – Friday night, at home, under the lights and just being out there with your teammates? We had such a good week of practice and our coaches expressed how bad we wanted it and how good we were because Curley's always had this rep – well, any B Conference team in general has. They say B Conference teams can't hang with A Conference teams like Loyola, Calvert Hall, Gilman. That kind of ticks me off a little bit.
What was it like at the end of the game?
Right when we were getting ready to line up and shake hands with them – because sportsmanship is key – I had like three Curley students jump on my back. Everyone stormed the field. It was great. That's something I'll definitely remember. It's something I'll tell my kids.
What career are you considering?
As a little kid, I always wanted to be a paleontologist. I love dinosaurs. I love digging in the dirt, messing with bones, just discovering things period. Or I could be an archaeologist. The world in general is such a great place. There's so much beauty on this Earth, sometimes I feel like there's still more to be discovered.
Who's your favorite football player?
Ray Lewis, of course. I love Ray because one quote he did say before he retired, "Man, they're going to have to drag me off this field before I leave," and that's my approach to every game when I play. When we have games on Friday or Saturday, I keep going until my body says, "You know what man? I think we need a break." Until they pull me off the field, I'm fighting every inch. I'm a small guy, but don't expect me to lay down because you're bigger than me.