Elijah Freeman surveyed the Palmetto High School defense from the back end.
The old new defensive backs coach stood on the edge of one end zone at the practice field at Palmetto High School, behind the safeties and corners to watch a play develop during Monday’s practice. The scout team offense is simulating Bayshore, an offense Freeman is plenty familiar with, and after a pass toward the left sideline the players pause for a brief meeting with coaches.
Freeman strolls in.
He pauses with one of his safeties, whose involvement in the play is limited to just shading in one direction. He didn’t have to change much, but this is where Freeman is at his best. Before spending the last three seasons as the Bruins’ head coach, Freeman spent eight successful years as an assistant in Palmetto, where he was a key cog in some of the most successful teams in Tiger history.
“The plan all along was to take a year off and kind of get re-acclimated to what’s going on over here, but things happen,” Freeman said. “Initially, I thought it stunk because I was enjoying that, but obviously I view it as a blessing, an opportunity to get back in here and coach and now I’m finally starting to get comfortable with what’s going on here.”
Freeman will make a return to Balvanz Stadium on Friday when Palmetto (3-1, 1-0 Class 7A-District 11) faces Bayshore (0-2, 0-1 Class 5A-District 11) at 7:30 p.m. The secondary he is commanding has been among the best in Manatee County. In four games, the Tiger defense has recorded 11 takeaways. The 78.3 passing yards per game Palmetto is allowing is the best in the county. And Freeman has had to bring it together quickly.
Freeman’s return came at the last minute. The vacancy came open in August when Craig Roundtree, who served as the Tigers’ defensive backs coach last fall and privately trains athletes in the area with Championship Results, was relieved of his duties by the county. Tigers athletic director Kenny Ansbro and Dave Marino mentioned the new opening to Freeman, who was back teaching at Palmetto after teaching at Bayshore while he was the head coach, and the opportunity made sense. During the second week of class, with less than a week until the Tigers’ preseason classic against Booker in Sarasota, Freeman was back on the field.
“It’s a learning curve,” Freeman said. “Getting adjusted to the kids. Kids getting adjusted to me.”
It was awkward at first, Freeman said, but he’s quickly found his place in the tight-knit group. Most of the Tiger defensive backs play together during offseason 7-on-7 with Team Elite and were friends even before they came together this fall through transfer and varsity promotion.
Freeman’s goal wasn’t necessarily to make his mark on the unit, but to make the necessary adjustments off what was already in place. It’s more a matter of reacting to what is presented during the course of the season, and so far he’s nailed his adjustments. Palmetto is winning game because of its defense, and Freeman is once again a crucial cog.
“Those kids were very well-coached by Coach Roundtree,” Marino said. “It was definitely an easy transition. There wasn’t a lot of pressure on him in terms of getting his kids to play at a higher level. They were already playing at a high level. A very talented group of kids playing at a high level.”
Capsules on all six of Friday’s high school football games involving area teams, 4B.
Boyd Anderson at IMG Academy, 7 p.m.
Cardinal Mooney at Lemon Bay, 7 p.m.
Palmetto at Bayshore, 7:30 p.m.
Braden River at Leesburg, 7:30 p.m.
Lakewood Ranch at Land O’ Lakes Sunlake, 7:30 p.m.
Deltona Trinity Christian Academy at Bradenton Christian, 7:30 p.m.