It has been a long time coming for Wil Freeman.
Freeman, a senior, has seenmany ups and downs in the program.
Success has eluded the Golden Eagles in recent years, but Freeman does not regret coming to Southern Miss in the slightest bit.
“As a kid, I knew this is where I wanted to come,” Freeman said.“This is where I wanted to play. It’s truly an honor to wear the black and gold.”
It was a dream come true when Southern Miss came knocking on his door with an offer—one Freeman did not hesitate to accept.
One of several Division I offers, Southern Miss did not have much competition at landing his services, because of his loyalty and family ties back to USM.
Freeman has a long family history of becoming a Golden Eagle.
His grandfather, father, mother and sister all went to Southern Miss, establishing a pipeline to Hattiesburg.
“I always came back here for Christmas to stay at my grandparents’ house,” Freeman said. “I grew up in Hattiesburg; this is my second home.”
His grandfather was first, being a high school football coach at Hattiesburg High.
Freeman was able to come down to Hattiesburg and develop his love for the game while also getting close to his grandfather.
“My grandfather came here to coach Hattiesburg High,” Freeman said. “Then that brought my Mom and her family here.”
After he arrived on campus his freshman year, Freeman initially was reluctant to doing the dirty work it takes to be great.
It was not uncommon to have players from previous years have the same attitude when they were not winning many games.
With records of 0-12, 1-11 and3-9 in the previous three years, players caught on to a negative attitude.
A losing culture left a stain on the program, but now the energy has become more positive.
“Now, everyone is walking with their heads held high. Everyone is excited and that’s something I haven’t seen from everyone in a while.” – Freeman
Even when he is not in the starting lineup, football is the center of his life.
Most student athletes have their schedules chosen for them and sometimes their lifestyles. But to include football in his collegiate studies makes the single difference to Freeman.
“I just can’t imagine waking up and having a normal school day (without football),” he said. “I love playing and I love Saturdays.”
This season, the coaching staff recruited heavily out of the junior college ranks to add depth to the team. Players like Freeman knew that they had to stand out to get playing time.
He packed on close to 20 pounds, making the commitment to playing on the interior of the defensive line.
“Wil finally decided to make a decision to put on weight and finally decided he was a defensive tackle,” said head coach Todd Monken. “(Wil) kind of had an identity crisis as a football player.”
With his past behind him, Freeman looks to right the wrongs that he had the past three years by truly dedicating himself, but playing time is not what drove him to make the change.
“My grandfather had a huge influence on me, but unfortunately, he passed away in December,” Freeman said.
“This is the one season that he’s not going to see me play and I want to dedicate it to him.”
While it took Freeman three full years to put everything he has into the game he loves, he clearly has the drive and passion now to reach his full potential.