Super Bowl

He once dodged bullets on a Miami football field. Now, he eyes his third title in six years.

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman listens to a question during Thursday’s Super Bowl media availability.
Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman listens to a question during Thursday’s Super Bowl media availability. AP

Devonta Freeman ambled over to his assigned seat on Thursday morning wearing his Falcons jersey and with a Florida State bag slung over his shoulder.

The only team missing from his wardrobe? Miami Central High, which he led to a state title in 2010.

“I can’t wear it no more, it’s so tight,” Freeman said during his final media commitment of Super Bowl week. “I still have a sweatsuit, but it’s kind of tight.”

Yes, six years after running for a ridiculous 308 yards in the Class 6A state title game, Freeman has most certainly grown up.

The Liberty City product has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in two of his first three NFL seasons, despite splitting carries with Falcons teammate Tevin Coleman.

The Liberty City product has eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in two of his first three NFL seasons, despite splitting carries with Falcons teammate Tevin Coleman.

Most players of Freeman’s ability — not to mention pedigree — would blanch at being a part-time player. But those players aren’t on the verge of a Super Bowl title, which would give Freeman the rare trifecta of championships: high school, collegiate and professional.

First, he won at Central with friends Rakeem Cato and Durell Eskridge. Three years later, he was part of Florida State’s undefeated run through college football.

Now, he’s on the doorstep of another title.

Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman is interviewed after his high school team, the Miami Central Rockets, won the FHSAA Class 6A state title game in 2010.

“It would mean a lot,” Freeman said Thursday. “It would be everything. You get to experience a moment like this with a lot of the guys … the same guys that go out and compete for me every day; it would be phenomenal.”

Freeman’s success isn’t an accident.

Bobby Turner, Freeman’s position coach in Atlanta, believes his young star is a two-time champion because he has “the heart” of one.

Asked to play word association Thursday, Turner immediately offered up “complete back” to describe Freeman.

Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who will be tasked Sunday with controlling Freeman, agrees, calling him “arguably one of the best in the league.”

Added Turner: “He practices hard and plays hard. … He loves the game. He wants to win.”

And he’s willing to do most anything to do so.

Freeman catches the ball almost as well as he runs it — his 157 receptions over the past three seasons is second among all Falcons behind only Julio Jones — and that ability popped the first time Turner watched film of his young back.

But Turner also noticed Freeman’s tendency to carry the ball almost exclusively with his right hand, which shaved potential yards off his game.

Turner mentioned that issue in his first conversation with Freeman after joining the Atlanta coaching staff in early 2015.

 ‘We’ve got to start having you, when you’re running the ball to the left, carry the ball in the left hand,’ ” Turner recalled. “It hadn’t even dawned on him. At the end of the conversation, he said, ‘Thanks Coach.’ He said, ‘Anything you can do for me, I want to be coached.’ 

That same humility has kept Freeman from lobbying for a new contract this week — even if his agent, Kristin Campbell, did so on his behalf.

Freeman, a fourth-round pick in 2014, made $600,000 in 2016 and is set to get just a $90,000 raise in 2017. Campbell recently told NFL.com that “it’s time for the Falcons to pay him like the elite back he is.”

Freeman wanted no part of that conversation this week, saying his only thought right now is bringing a first Super Bowl championship to Atlanta.

And, of course, Miami — with all its familiarity, both good and bad — will never be far from his thoughts.

Growing up, I had to deal with frustration, stress, anxiety. I tell people, football is really fun. I really enjoy it. This is my getaway.

Devonta Freeman

“Growing up, I had to deal with frustration, stress, anxiety,” Freeman said. “I tell people, football is really fun. I really enjoy it. This is my getaway.”

Freeman continued: “You wonder where I came from — that was stressful. Trying to dodge a bullet was stressful. When you’re playing on the football field and a shootout starts, dodging those things, that was stressful. That was frustrating.

“Now, it’s just fun,” he added. “I get to sit back and do what I love to do. I’ve got to enjoy it.”

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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