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Freeman's healthy return a piece of great news to Messwood's Zortman

Senior was hurt in loss to Bay

Oct. 23, 2012

There wasn't a lot of good news for Shorewood/Messmer football coach Drake Zortman during and just after the Greyhounds' 37-0 WIAA Division 2 Level 1 state playoff loss to area rival Whitefish Bay on Saturday.

Even when his cheerful, giggling small children ran up to him afterward in consolation wearing their Messwood stocking caps with pride, his prescient older daughter jumped into his arms and said:

"You lost, Daddy."

"I know," dad said quietly.

Zortman was clinging to one thing; senior defensive back/running back Donovan Freeman's reputation as one tough nut.

And that point was verified the next afternoon where toward the end of the team's last film session and final equipment turn-in, Freeman called Zortman and said he had been released from the hospital and was coming to visit.

He arrived about 2:30 p.m.

Freeman was wearing a neck brace and was understandably walking a little stiffly.

But for the rest of the Greyhounds that represented the pinnacle of health as everyone was glad to see him up and about.

"He had gone into the hospital the night before and had X-rays taken (of his neck) and everything came back negative," Zortman said. "He was sore and the people at the hospital probably thought he was suffering from a stinger.

"But he seemed to have a bounce in his step and was his usual jovial self."

Good news, indeed, for Zortman.

Collided with teammate

Freeman was hurt in a collision with a teammate in the third quarter of the game with Bay on that Saturday night (see separate story), which resulted in a sobering delay of about 20 minutes as an ambulance was brought onto the field at Bay and a backboard used carefully to transport Freeman to an area hospital.

Zortman had told the team that Freeman was moving and talking as he left but also knew that he was not out of the woods yet.

But in retrospect, Zortman knew he should have known better than doubt Freeman's resolve.

"After the first game of the season," Zortman said, "that boy had his knee cleaned out (arthroscopic surgery) and he missed three games and we thought he might miss more, but he tells me 'I'm playing in the Lake Country (Lutheran) game' (the Greyhounds biggest game of the year and only regular season loss).

"And here he comes back and he played and played well in that game. He marked (his return) to the day. This is a guy whose senior year is very important to him."

He said that noting that Freeman has made great strides in turning his life around in the last few years. Zortman would like to think that Freeman's participation on the rising football team had a little to do with that.

Part of rebuilding program

Like the rest of the Greyhounds, Freeman no doubt would have liked to have seen his team do better against Bay. The margin of loss was about the same as last year's first-round playoff defeat to eventual state Division 1 semifinalist Milwaukee Riverside, but the Messwood co-op won three more games (seven) this season than it did in 2011.

And that's something to build on.

Zortman will now continue to comb the halls of both Messmer and Shorewood for fine young men like Freeman to play football. He needs them to get into the weight room, get stronger and encourage even more of their classmates to come out.

He knows he needs to hone the team's competitive skills, give them a tougher schedule and then further steps can be taken.

That work will go on immediately.

In the interim, he is awaiting the start of the boys basketball season. As Zortman mentioned, Freeman's senior year is very important to him and Freeman is a premium returning player for the Greyhounds basketball squad this winter.

Zortman thinks he'll make sure to catch a couple of games. "I think he (Freeman) is going to have a great basketball season," he said.

And now he knows better that to bet against that notion.

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