AUBURN, Ala. — Whenever linebacker Eltoro Freeman isn’t gung-ho about hitting the practice field behind the Auburn athletic complex, he pipes some Lil’ Wayne into his headphones to get amped up.
It’s a rare resort for the lively linebacker, who waited two years at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to get here.
“I know every time I go out there, every time I wake up, I’m one day closer,” he said. “So that’s real exciting.”
In his short time with the program, Freeman, who enrolled in school last January and went through spring drills, has brought an infectious energy to the linebacking corps. More importantly, he’s an extra body in a group that’s perilously thin.
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Beyond the starting three of Josh Bynes (middle), Craig Stevens (strong side) and Freeman (weak side), Auburn is hurting for depth.
Converted safety Marcus Jemison was kicked off the team during the summer, leaving four other scholarship linebackers. Of those four, Spencer Pybus is the only one who received serious playing time last year on the regular defense, making 14 tackles as a true freshman. Sophomore Adam Herring was held out of the spring and still isn’t practicing because of an unspecified injury, and the other two — freshmen Harris Gaston and Jonathan Evans — just arrived in Auburn this summer.
“We’re pretty low on depth right now, but that’s what it is,” said defensive coordinator Ted Roof, who doubles as the linebackers coach. “It’s our job to develop depth.”
And hope the starting three stay healthy and produce. That’s not much of a concern for Bynes and Stevens, who combined for 107 tackles last year and have drawn rave reviews from the coaching staff so far. The question is how will Freeman adapt to life in the SEC?
After redshirting his second year at Mississippi Gulf Coast to preserve a year of eligibility, the Alexander City, Ala., native hit the field running at Auburn, firing through drills at the same full speed he attacks ballcarriers, a one-gear mentality that fits perfectly in Roof’s fly-around-and-hit-someone defense.
“That’s how you got to play the game — full speed,” Freeman said. “You never know. The ball may come out and you may be able to scoop it and score or make a big play.”
“I don’t want to slow him down,” Roof said. “But I don’t want him to get ahead of himself either. But I love that enthusiasm. I love that about him. I don’t ever want him to lose that.”
The sophomore has made strides in his game since arriving last winter. He always had been a run-stuffer at his previous stops, in his own words, “a run-fit guy — see the ball and go get it.” But now, he is expanding his responsibilities into pass coverage, a must at this level of football.
“He’s improved a lot,” Roof said. “You can tell there’s not the delayed thought process with his reactions, and I started to see that toward the end of spring practice. He’s just picked up right where he left off. He works at it. It’s so important to him, and, as a coach, you have a lot of respect and really appreciate that, and you enjoy coaching kids like that.”
Freeman already has reached cult status on the Auburn online message boards. Fans have latched on to his upbeat manner and catchy nickname. Although he has been called “Da Bull” (the Spanish translation of his first name) since he was an eighth-grader, he didn’t always like it.
“I hated Eltoro when I was little,” he said. “I was like, ‘My parents couldn’t give me a normal name.’ But as I was playing football and people were telling me that means ‘the bull,’ and I was physical and strong, I began to like it.”
Physical and strong? Those are two characteristics Auburn would love to see in this linebacker this season.