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December 2, 2010

You mess with 'The Bull', you get the horns

A 14-second clip making the rounds on YouTube displays just how passionate junior linebacker Eltoro Freeman can be.

The clip is so touching that being a Tiger fan isn't a prerequisite to get choked up.

It features Freeman fighting back tears as he emphatically expresses his appreciation of his older brother, Charlie, after the Tigers' dramatic come-from-behind 28-27 victory in last week's Iron Bowl.

Freeman, who had been struggling since his arrival on the Plains last season to fully earn the coaches' trust, was given the opportunity to start in the biggest game of Auburn's season.

Defensive coordinator Ted Roof said Freeman earned the starting nod because of his hard work in practice.

"As coaches, we want to reward performance," Roof said. "And he had performed well and earned that. So that's what we did."

Freeman found out the day before the game that he would be starting. Regardless, the Alex City native said he practices each day like he already has the job.

"We just rotated a lot," Freeman said. "Coach always goes off of who had a good practice or whatever. Fortunately, I had the best practice at that position. And coach gave me a shot. I was just blessed. I mean, truly blessed. I thank God for it."

It was Freeman's fourth start of the season and 11th of his Auburn career. Since Freeman has been at Auburn, coaches have worked with him to help him better understand the plays and defensive scheme.

Freeman's fiery passion, although endearing, has caused some problems on the field. The linebacker admitted that his fervor caused some mistakes particularly in the first half of the Iron Bowl.

"I was so hyped, and I also didn't want to make no mistakes," Freeman said. "I just wanted to go and make everyone proud.

"I'm so hard on myself. And I just want the coaches' trust so bad. When I do get my opportunity, I go out there, I'm just really trying to play hard and just be able to stay on the field, make plays. But by doing that, sometimes I may overrun the play, or I may be too aggressive or whatever."

At one point, Freeman missed a tackle of Alabama running back Mark Ingram. Freeman was afraid the error would have him pulled from the game, but he was surprised when Roof had other plans.

"When I went to the sideline, to hear Coach Roof tell me, 'Toro, it's alright.' I was so worried about, 'Man, ya'll are gonna take me out now.' He was like, 'Toro, it's alright. You're gonna stay in the game. Everything will be alright,'" Freeman said. "To hear him say that made my confidence level just shoot up. It was just unbelievable."

The reassurance changed Freeman's mindset for the rest of the game.

"When I went back out there, dawg, I just played free," Freeman said. "I didn't have to worry about making this mistake or worry about, 'Oh man, I'm gonna have to sit out the whole game.' I could just play football now. I didn't have to be on pins, needles, anything. With him telling me that, it just took my name to another level."

Middle linebacker Josh Bynes also had a word with Freeman after the missed tackle in an effort to help him clear his mind.

"I told him, 'You have to calm down. Let's calm down. If you calm down, things are going to happen and it's going to be perfect for you,'" Bynes said. "When he did that, he went out there and played great. It was a great scenario for him.

"When he finally calmed down and let the game some to him, he did what he was supposed to do and made plays. He played with energy. It was great what he was doing out there for this team."

But the person who has been motivating and keeping his mind on the right track isn't a teammate or coach. In fact, he never even played football.

That person is Freeman's older brother, Rome Jr., or more commonly known as Charlie. Charlie still lives in their hometown where he works as a real estate investor.

"I thank God for my brother Charlie," Freeman said. "He's one of the big things that he always tries to talk to me, tries to keep me motivated, tries to keep me focused and tells me everything's going to work out. He always told me whenever you get your opportunity - it doesn't matter if you get two plays - whenever you get out there, you do your best. With that being said, and with me going out and getting a chance to start, it was just unbelievable. Just going out there, having fun and making plays. It's just unbelievable.

"He didn't get to play. He didn't have the size or nothing like me. But he sure did have the drive. He put everything in me. He put all his marbles in me. So when he sees me out there playing, he feels like he's out there. He done taught me since I was, man, 5. Since I was born. He's taught me everything I know."

So when Freeman finished the Iron Bowl with nine tackles, two of which were for a loss of five yards with a sack, the first person he wanted to thank was his brother.

"That's all I could think about," Freeman said. "I'm an emotional person. So I was just thinking about like, 'Dawg.' The whole year, man, he was just, 'Everything's gonna be alright. Everything's gonna be alright.' To be able to be an impact at that game, Alabama? Phewwwww. It was just unbelievable. And I thank God, he just truly blessed me."

Being from Alabama also played a big role in his emotional reaction after the historic win.

"I was in tears," Freeman said. "And to come back 24 at Alabama? A lot of people talk about our defense and this and that, but I tell you, man. When it's time for us to step up and make the play, we do that. Every time. Every game. Trav (defensive graduate assistant Travis Williams) always tells us, 'We ain't got to be the best defense in the country. But come Saturday, as long as we're the best. That's all that matters.' And we go in with that attitude."

This week the Tigers will be competing for their first conference championship since 2004. As long as Freeman has anything to do with it, the Tigers will fighting hard to pull out a win.

"I'm going to do everything in my power not to let it slip away," Freeman said. "The whole team, we're all working hard, we've got this thing. Because six years ago the team went undefeated and they were wishing. They didn't know if they were going to play for the national championship or not. We know. All we've got to do is win out. So that's big. To bring a national championship here to Auburn University, that's a big thing to do."



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