“You know when you’re taking a kid home every day and you’re taking him to a neighborhood where he has to walk the red tape, the yellow tape, where people get murdered right at his doorstep and him being in a single-parent-household situation in the ‘Pork & Beans’ projects,” Campbell said, “I had to tell him one of the hardest things I ever had to say to him as a coach, mentor, dad or person.”
Freeman was living in a project in Liberty City, his mother, younger brothers and sisters sharing a small space along with his aunt and her children.
“There used to always be killing and shooting,” Freeman said solemnly. “But Luther always used to tell me, ‘You’re going to it make it out of these projects, so just keep grinding and keep doing what you’re doing.’ ”
Finally, there came a day when Campbell had to spell out a harsh, unfortunate reality.
On that day, as Campbell dropped off Freeman, who was 12 at the time, the two shared a conversation that thrust Freeman into manhood.
‘Man of the house’
“He had to be the man of the house because of the situation that they’re in,” Campbell said. “You know, he looked up as a little kid and started crying, but I told him, ‘Look, you’re going to have to start being the man of the house because you’ve got to protect your brothers and sisters, and unfortunately you’re not going to be able to have a child’s life like other kids.’”
‘You’re going to have to carry yourself in a way that your little brothers and sisters look at you so that they can become successful people and get out of the situation that they’re in, too.’”
Freeman took that talk to heart and became self-reliant — financially and in a greater sense. As a 13-year-old, he was working three jobs: at a car wash, at a funeral home and cutting grass on weekends.
He even told his mother to stop worrying about taking care of him, to focus on her younger children because he would be OK.
And all the while, Campbell and Freeman continued their relationship.
“He’s actually been like a real uncle or a father figure in my life because we’ve just been through a lot together,” Freeman said of Campbell. “I learned so much stuff. Just a lot of life lessons. School first — he always taught me school first, that I need to make good grades in order to succeed. … He used to have long talks with me about life lessons.”
Perhaps the most significant thing Freeman got from those talks with Campbell was to not take anything for granted, and he isn’t — not in college and not in life.
Freeman led the Seminoles in rushing last season as a true freshman. He averaged nearly 5 yards a carry and scored eight touchdowns as one of the lone bright spots in last season’s beleaguered rushing attack.
The maturity to handle such a role as a freshman came more easily than it does for most because, to Freeman, that’s not pressure.
“From that day when he was 12, when we had the conversation, he’s been a man the whole time,” Campbell said. “Coaches, whether it’s [FSU coach Jimbo Fisher] or [FSU running backs/special-teams coach] Eddie Gran, they say ‘man this kid is so mature.’ And I tell them, look, he’s been the head of the household from the age of 13.