Wade Freebeck was in the second grade when his mother came home from work and realized something in her son had changed.
“He used to always watch the Cartoon Network, but when I came home that particular day he was watching SportsCenter,’’ said Meg Freebeck, a marketing manager and mother of two.
“After that, he never looked back. His second grade teacher, Ms. Finley, was married to a Miami Dolphins’ assistant coach. Every Monday she would come in and ask the students questions about the game, and Wade would always have all the answers.’’
A dozen years later, Wade has arguably the most prestigious high school starting job in the state: quarterback at seven-time state champion and two-time national champion St. Thomas Aquinas.
A two-year starter at Western, Freebeck transferred to Aquinas last January and eventually beat out junior Jake Rizzo (6-0, 185) to take over the reins from John O’Korn, a 6-4, 210-pound dual threat who guided the Raiders to the Class 7A state title and 10 consecutive wins after getting off to a rocky 3-2 start.
O’Korn, now a freshman at the University of Houston, was about as dangerous running with the football (523 yards, 15 touchdowns) as he was throwing it (2,552 yards, 22 touchdowns). Freebeck, a lanky 6-5, 205 pounds, is much more of a traditional pocket passer, who has no trouble seeing over his monster-sized offensive line, led by University of Miami-bound center Nick Linder (6-3, 278).
“Wade is very similar to [former Aquinas starting quarterback] Jake Rudock [now the starting quarterback at Iowa],’’ third-year Raiders coach Rocky Casullo said.
“John is one of those kids who wanted to prove all his doubters wrong. Wade is kind of nonchalant about everything — go out and run the play and then the next play, which is good. With John he wanted to do everything, make the right pass or run the ball. Once John learned he didn’t have to do that, he really was great and we took off.’’
Freebeck, rated a four-star quarterback and the 15th-best pocket passer in the country by ESPN.com, never really had the weapons around him at Western to put up gaudy numbers. He completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes for 1,302 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season and threw for 680 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions while sharing the starting job as a sophomore.
But he has plenty of talent around him now, including Notre Dame-bound receiver Corey Holmes (6-2, 175), highly touted junior Devante Peete (6-4, 170) and bruising senior running back Madre London (6-1, 202).
A polished QB
“One of Wade’s biggest focuses when he got here was putting weight on and he did that, nearly 20 pounds,’’ Casullo said.
“He’s a very polished quarterback with great zip on slants and great touch on fade routes. The one thing our offensive coordinator was really impressed with was how quickly Wade learned the playbook, which says a lot of his knowledge and development as a quarterback.’’
Linder said it didn’t take Freebeck long either to win his teammates over, impressing them with his work ethic in the weight room and the old “first guy, last guy out deal” on most days over the summer.
One of five senior quarterbacks between Miami-Dade and Broward with commitments to BCS conference schools, Freebeck already got his college decision out of the way, picking the University of Pittsburgh near the end of June.
Choosing Pitt, he said, was probably easier for him than picking Aquinas over Western.
Freebeck said he speaks to his old friends and teammates at Western regularly.
“At the end of the day, you have to do what’s best for your future so that’s what took place,’’ Freebeck said. "My personality, I’m a natural competitor in every aspect of life.
“It should definitely be a fun challenge. I feel like if we stay together as a team, we can be where we want to be in the end.’’
Freebeck’s mom said what Raiders fans can expect to see from her son — who also has a grade-point average over 4.0 — is a very driven and competitive young man who feels very fortunate to be behind the wheel of Aquinas’ offense.
“He takes the responsibility very seriously and knows a lot of people are watching him,’’ she said. “This is an opportunity to take his play to a whole different level.’’