The storm was eminent. Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman spent the duration of his Saturday waiting. Just waiting for dusk to fall so he could play in his first collegiate football game.
The calm before the highly anticipated opener against South Dakota was anything but. Instead, it was riddled with a battle against the spine-tingling nerves that accompany such a milestone in a young football player’s career. In response, Freeman escaped.
“I say a little prayer,” Freeman said after Oregon’s 62-13 season opening victory over South Dakota.
Through prayer, Freeman isolated his focus on the one thing he could control.
“I just try to relax and not try to do too much out of my element,” Freeman said. “I just try to run hard and run the way I know how to run the football.”
Against South Dakota, Freeman did just that. He finished with 10 carries for 75 yards and two touchdowns, validating the hype that had built around him throughout the offseason.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota noticed immediately that Freeman was a special prospect.
“He stepped onto campus with a confidence that you could tell right away that he believed in himself and that he could do whatever he needed to do,” Mariota said.
Early on in the offseason, in a 7-on-7 drill, Mariota threw an out route to Freeman who eluded a couple defenders on his way to the end zone. The small sample size triggered quite the impression in the Oregon quarterback.
“I was like wow,” Mariota said, “that was pretty special.”
The Oregon football team keeps its practices closed. Meaning, that what goes on behind closed doors, can’t be seen, but only talked about. For weeks, the idea that Freeman was destined to be the next great Oregon back, sooner than later, was instilled by those who could see behind the closed doors of the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex.
In a way, the storm that Freeman approached in his first college football game, was a test. Freeman passed it with flying colors by simplifying the complexity of the situation into something he could handle. Only a freshman, Freeman gave a glimpse of the impact that can and will be expected of him as the season goes forth.
“For a guy his size to be that elusive and to have the abilities that he has, it’s special for us and we’re very thankful for him,” Mariota said.
Follow Joseph Hoyt on Twitter @JoeJHoyt