Commentary

Out of Miami, Freeman is ready to start over at Baylor

Originally Published: April 10, 2008
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

WACO, Texas -- Kirby Freeman is thankful for a clean slate.

[+] EnlargeKirby Freeman
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIKirby Freeman started the 2007 season as the Miami starting quarterback.

After struggling through three seasons of battling for the quarterback job at Miami, Freeman has resurfaced as a fifth-year transfer at Baylor for his senior season. A chance to work with new Baylor coach Art Briles is giving Freeman a new lease on life to conclude his college football career.

Freeman never lived up to his lofty expectations with the Hurricanes after a stellar high school career in Brownwood, Texas. But his opportunity this spring has energized him for his fresh challenge with the Bears.

"I look at my time at Miami -- not necessarily football-wise but everything else included -- as a great experience," Freeman said. "I'm happy I was able to experience it, and in no way will I shut it out of my life. But my time right now is with this football team."

It's surprising that Freeman would have that many good things to say about his time at Miami, where he battled Kyle Wright for the starting position. There were more setbacks than successes for Freeman, topped by his MVP performance in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl in former coach Larry Coker's final game.

New coach Randy Shannon installed Freeman as his opening-game starter last season, and the Hurricanes responded with a victory over Marshall despite his own struggling personal statistics. He then started the following week at Oklahoma, but Wright replaced him before halftime during a humiliating 51-13 loss to the Sooners. At the time of his demotion, the Hurricanes ranked 118th out of the 119 Division I-A schools in average passing yards per game and yards per attempt.

After Wright was injured against Florida State later in the season, Freeman orchestrated a dramatic comeback victory over the Seminoles, throwing the go-ahead touchdown pass in the final minutes. But Freeman followed that performance with a 1-for-14 passing effort against North Carolina State in his last playing time with the Hurricanes. It would be hard to believe that the boos that were ringing through the Orange Bowl after his three-interception performance that day aren't still ringing in his ears.

"There were so many ups and downs," Freeman said. "I could dwell on the bad experiences all you want because I've had some of that. But I can also remember that last drive against Florida State and use that, too.

"I've got to learn from those things. I'm just happy about being here and building off the experiences I've had. By no means am I blocking them out, but I have to remember what I've done is in the past. I can use them as experience to get better."

Briles' arrival at Baylor provided a natural entry point for Freeman, whose father Steve coached on Briles' staff at Stephenville High School when Kirby was an infant.

I look at my time at Miami -- not necessarily football-wise but everything else included -- as a great experience. I'm happy I was able to experience it, and in no way will I shut it out of my life. But my time right now is with this football team.

--Kirby Freeman

"The reason I came was because of coach Briles," Freeman said. "I wanted to be in a good situation and have a good experience. I thought this provided that to me."

Rebuilding Freeman's confidence is one of the most immediate tasks for the Baylor coaching staff.

"All of his memories aren't good and that's just the thing you have to deal with," Briles said. "He's had some difficult times, and what we have to do is let him feel the good times. He's a tough kid. You survive, and that's what he's going to do."

His transfer and immediate playing time was allowed by the NCAA because the graduate-level sports administration classes he wanted to take were not available at Miami.

Freeman, a multitalented runner and passer, would appear to be an ideal fit for Briles' offensive philosophy. Before arriving at Baylor in late November, Briles' Houston team was the only one in the nation last season to rank among the top 25 in both rushing and passing.

After leading the Cougars to bowl games in the past three seasons, Briles is excited about his opportunity at Baylor. Freeman is similarly thrilled after working with his new coach during spring practice.

"Coach Briles' mentality and all that he brings to the table is phenomenal," Freeman said. "I'm not only anxious to see where this program goes in 2008, but also where he takes it in the future. And that's what I'm here for, is to help him build a strong foundation."

To do that, he'll have to win in a crowded battle at quarterback. Blake Szymanski started 10 games last season, breaking nearly every single-season and single-game passing record in the process. And heralded recruit Robert Griffin skipped his final semester of high school to begin work in Briles' offense this spring.

Freeman took the field with the No. 1 offense in Baylor's annual spring game. He showed flashes, completing 7 of 13 passes for 75 yards. But he also was intercepted once and fumbled twice, including the first play of the scrimmage.

[+] EnlargeBlake Szymanski
Jim Cowsert/Icon SMIBlake Szymanski had a record-setting year for the Bears last season.

Szymanski finished with an impressive 9-for-13 outing for 102 yards and a TD in the spring game, with two of his passes dropped. Griffin turned heads by showing surprising early command of the offense, completing 5 of 9 passes for 66 yards and 30 more rushing yards.

The Bears' starting job is a long way from being settled. Briles said he expects competition to play out through the summer, leading up to the Bears' Aug. 30 season opener against Wake Forest.

Continued work will enable Freeman to blot away bad memories as he builds confidence working with the Bears' new offense.

"That's one of the keys with Kirby, and he understands that," Baylor co-offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery said. "He's got a few ghosts in the closet. But it's all about confidence.

"He's got the ability, the arm and the skill in reading coverages and experience. He's got all that. But the big thing for him will be playing relaxed and understanding the offense. And then feeling confident when he's in there with the football in his hand."

It would be hard for Freeman to imagine a more nurturing situation than what he currently has at Baylor. His fiancée is moving to Waco, where she plans to enter Baylor's law school. His parents are less than two hours away and have frequently attended practice this spring.

That support group should provide him with the kind of reassurance that was missing earlier in his college career.

"That feeling of security is so huge for me," Freeman said. "I'm glad to be back home and ready to compete for this job. This is a good fit for me."

Tim Griffin covers college sports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.