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A vote for Freeman as Player of Year

11/27/2013, 11:22pm PST
By Don Norcross

But Imperial running back can't do everything as Tigers eliminated by St. Augustine.

Imperial running back Royce Freeman finished his prep career as the San Diego Section's career leader in rushing yards at 7,601.

And so, we discovered Royce Freeman’s weakness. The Oregon-bound Imperial High running back cannot play defensive tackle. And end. And middle linebacker and outside linebacker. And cornerback and safety.

At least not at the same time.

Imperial’s red-jacketed faithful made the 107-mile trip west to Mesa College on Wednesday night, filling one side of the stands, hoping the 6-foot, 227-pound man-child Freeman might lift the Tigers to an upset of St. Augustine in the San Diego Section Division II semifinals.

It wasn’t to be. It wasn’t close.

Saints scored early and often, bolted to a 42-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 56-12 victory. As a reward, Saints faces Mission Bay in the Division II finals Monday at Qualcomm Stadium.

Mission Bay outgunned RBV 56-49.

For Freeman, his incredible career is history.

“It’s pretty sad,” said Freeman, who rushed for 168 yards on 20 carries. “I just wanted to give it my all, which I did. If you do that, you can walk off the field proud.”

To those of you who never took the time to catch Freeman’s act, you missed something special. Try 7,601 career yards rushing in four seasons, the most in section history. Previous best: 6,694 by Escondido High’s Rickey Seale.

Try 2,819 yards rushing this season, the second most in section history for a single season. Dillon Baxter rushed for 2,974 yards in 2009 for Mission Bay. Baxter played 13 games; Freeman played 12 this year.

It was Sweetwater High’s Brian Hay who looked at Freeman on tape and supplied the best quote I’ve ever been handed by a coach.

“All I can tell you,” said Hay, “is that if Reggie Bush and Ricky Williams have a baby, it’ll come out Royce Freeman.”

A collection of San Diego sports writers, broadcasters and coaches met this week to select the All-San Diego Section football teams. The results will not be announced until Dec. 6.

But I don’t mind sharing my vote for Offensive Player of the Year.

Royce Freeman.

There’s a collection of media partial to the North County that weren’t sold on Freeman. Soft competition, they said.

“If he played in the North County,” said one provincial voter, “he’d suffer a lot of bumps and bruises.”

Bunk, I say. If Freeman played for a North County school, bigger, more athletic linemen would be clearing holes for him.

Told there were some parochial panelists who wouldn’t vote for Freeman, Helix High coach Troy Starr, who coached at Woodland Hills Taft, laughed derisively.

Said Starr, “At the L.A. private schools, if they’d have known he was down here, they would have expanded their Christian outreach from vans to include small airplanes.”

Do yourself a favor. Log onto hudl.com. Type in the name Royce Freeman and check out highlights that will leave your jaw slacked, your mouth agape.

Like Oct. 26 last year against Central. Freeman takes a handoff, darts right and is immediately greeted by a would-be tackler. Only Freeman shoves the defender down with his left arm. Three defenders converge, Freeman cuts left and he’s gone. Touchdown.

Like Nov. 2 last year against Palo Verde. Freeman takes a pitch, sweeps left, stumbles, plants his right hand to maintain his balance, spins off a defender, then darts to the sideline.

He cuts right, cuts left, cuts right one more time and he’s gone.

In the Imperial Valley or on the road, Freeman created a buzz whenever he walked onto the field.

“We played schools in Yuma and when we got off the bus, people would be lined up to see him,” said Imperial coach Kerry Legarra.

“I’d hear kids talking to their parents. ‘Can I get his autograph?’ ”

Sure enough, when Freeman finished shaking hands with St. Augustine players, a Saints student asked him to stop for a cellphone photo op.

Of the attention, Freeman said, “It’s not what I work for, but it’s nice getting noticed.”

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