MANATEE -- Elijah Freeman spent the past eight years as an assistant football coach at Palmetto High, but the former Tulane University standout always hoped to return home.
That home is Bayshore, where Freeman played his prep football.
And on Tuesday, Freeman was selected as the Bruins' next head coach.
"I believe Bayshore was looking for not only a head coach, but an educator," Freeman said. "It didn't hurt to have a familiar face or name. I did graduate from Bayshore High School in 1993 and played football there as well. Going in, already I'm proud of my school. So I'm going in expecting that same pride that I have to be reflected in the football team. And hopefully, it will permeate throughout the school."
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Freeman, an all-state cornerback at Bayshore, replaces Jean P. Gordon, who resigned in early December and cited a need for change after a long coaching career.
Freeman beat out nearly 100 applicants. The other finalists were current Bayshore assistant Tyler Zebkar and Willie Joe Walker, who is an assistant at a high school in Idaho.
Walker was a former Bayshore player just like Freeman, while Zebkar was a member of the 2000 state champion Venice Indians.
But Freeman's local football knowledge coupled with his ties to the program as a past player weren't the only reasons he was chosen.
"I think what separated Elijah from some of the others is a lot of people want to be a head varsity football coach, (but) Elijah wanted to be Bayshore's varsity football coach," Bayshore athletic director Chris Brady said. "And what I mean by that is because he's an alumnus, as far as I know, this is the only school and position that he was really interested in."
Freeman entered the Manatee County coaching scene following a brief stint in Alabama by way of
Out-of-Door Academy head coach Brett Timmons.
The pair were teammates at Tulane, and Timmons helped Freeman become a part of Palmetto's staff, which was under head coach James Haynes at the time.
After one year under Haynes, Freeman spent the next four on Raymond Woodie's staff before spending the past three seasons with Dave Marino.
"I've been blessed to have an opportunity to work with some very quality coaches, and I'm excited to use what I've learned from them to benefit the Bayshore program," Freeman said.
So the next order of business for Freeman is to head to Bayshore's campus Wednesday and speak with players and current staff.
Then the transition period will begin as he'll look to guide the Bruins back to success. Bayshore failed to reach the playoffs during Gordon's tenure, going 25-44, and last qualified for the postseason in 2005. The 2012 Bruins were 3-7.
That was part of three consecutive playoff trips during Woodie's tenure before he left for the Palmetto job.
"I definitely want to go in and ignite the football program," Freeman said. "And create some enthusiasm by hard work, consistency, being dependable and responsible. You teach the student-athletes the same character traits that you learn growing up. And you keep reinforcing those things."
Freeman also became the second assistant to leave Marino's staff for a head coaching position. Nate Varnadore left the Tigers for Crystal River in January.