TALLAHASSEE -- It’s 6 p.m. and from the halls of the Moore Athletic Center you can hear the echoes of a football team reverberating off the tiles.
Young men recently off the Florida State practice field are migrating slowly to the dining hall, chattering about classes and a new semester, college friends, assignments, girls and anything else a 20-year-old might concern himself with.
Devonta Freeman is a 20-year-old sophomore, but his concerns are far different from most others’.
“With some of my financial-aid money, I just bought for my deceased auntie — her two boys — a whole bunch of school clothes. I just spent like $300 … and I’m not done,” Freeman says as his teammates chatter away in the adjacent dining hall.
Freeman pauses to gather his thoughts.
“It’s not a thing that I’m doing because I want a blessing or something like that. It’s just, I’m doing it because I know what it’s like to go to school without anything new. I don’t want them to go through that. They’re too young to understand. I was too young to understand.”
Freeman now understands plenty. He has seen death in his family, been close to death in his community, faced poverty, lived for several years in a project and been told he needed to give up his childhood.
But he also has had an unlikely guardian watching over him.
“I was playing baseball for this little park called Moore Park,” Freeman said, recounting his first meeting with Luther Campbell. “I think that my first year playing I was about 9 years old, and we came to Liberty City and I hit a home run. Ever since that day he wanted me to come play for him.”
Campbell is famous — and infamous — for many things, among them his association with the University of Miami football programs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over the years, he has denied allegations that he bestowed gifts on UM players during that era of Hurricanes football. Campbell, who once led the controversial rap-music group 2 Live Crew, ran for Miami-Dade County mayor last year and finished fourth among 11 candidates.
But to some, none of that matters.
“He used to take us on trips as the whole team, we used to go to fun parks in Orlando because we always went to Pop Warner little league. I was the starting [quarterback]. We won two national championships,” Freeman recalled. “We all used to go over. He’d invite the whole team to his house. We used to mess up his house. We were bad playing around.”
In Campbell, or Coach Luke as he’s known to his players, Freeman found a constant presence to push him in the right direction.
“He was always in my corner, even right now it’s the same way, and I know if I was ever to like make it to the NFL or whatever he won’t ever ask me for anything — and there’s other people out there that have helped me, too — but I’d do whatever for him,” Freeman said. “His child would be good if God forbid something were to happen to him, his family would be good. I’d be there for them.”
Coming from Freeman, who knows what it means to take care of a family, those words are not hollow.
After all the fun trips and the days at Coach Luke’s, Freeman always would be returning back to reality — back home.