By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
“Down! Set! Hike!”
With the highly touted ACU football team set to kick off its season soon, those three words would appear to be the most important on star quarterback Colby Freeman’s mind. But this preseason, the senior received a gift far more precious than his golden arm or his team’s Top 25 ranking, and three new words have taken precedence in his world:
“It’s a girl!”
Averie Louann Freeman was born at 11:11 a.m., Tuesday, Aug. 19, at a healthy 8 pounds, 5 ounces, and-much to the delight of Colby and his wife, Courtney-with no complications.
Less than a week later, Freeman shares his living room couch with the two biggest loves of his life. Courtney he sits beside, Averie he holds, and a boyish grin creeps across his face as he reflects on his tiny daughter’s birth. “It was definitely the most emotional time of my life,” he says. “To actually hold her in my arms… it was the first time I could physically touch my own daughter, and every emotion humanly possibly came out.”
As did a new side to Colby, a new passion for life he couldn’t have grasped without this gift from God.
“She’s changed my whole attitude about a lot of things,” Freeman says. “Everything seems a lot less important. I mean, it’s a miracle. Anybody who doesn’t believe in God after seeing their own baby born is crazy.”
Crazy is a good word to describe how much Freeman has accomplished in college, as well. First marriage, then a child-and don’t forget his prowess on the football field. After suffering a season-ending leg injury in 2001, he came back in 2002 with a vengeance; leading the Lone Star Conference South with 2,093 passing yards and 12 touchdowns-helping ACU to a 6-4 record and a near division title.
“Colby has always been a good leader for us,” head coach Gary Gaines said.
And like any respected leader, Freeman’s troops have rallied around him. Several teammates and coaches came to Hendrick Hospital that Tuesday to see the newborn Averie, and to support their friend on the happiest moment of his life.
“Some guys came to the hospital, and we’ve gotten a lot of calls,” says Colby. “The players, coaches and managers have all been really supportive. We even got a couple gifts from some players’ parents.”
Senior offensive lineman Britt Lively, who spends his Saturdays protecting his quarterback, spent that Tuesday congratulating him.
“It was neat going to the hospital that day,” Lively said. “He’s such a big bad player on the field, but when he’s holding that baby, he ‘s really soft and gentle.
“His eyes get real big when he talks about her. He’s a great guy and a good leader for us. He’ll be a really good dad,” said Lively.
Courtney agrees, and hints that the one characteristic Averie has in common with her dad is her eyelashes.
“But she smiles more when I’m holding her,” Colby jokes.
“I think Colby will be a great dad,” Courtney, Colby’s former high school sweetheart, says. “He’s always had that heart for kids. After all of his games in high school, he would take pictures with all the kids and give them hugs.”
And while Freeman embraces his most recent blessing, he assures that he won’t slack on his responsibilities to the football team. In fact, he missed only three workouts after Averie was born, and was back in time to play in the Purple/White intrasquad scrimmage later that week.
“It won’t affect my play,” he says. “If anything, I’ll get up in the middle of the night when she’s crying and watch film while I’m rocking her.”
Gaines said it’s unique to coach a player with a child.
“It’s unusual; you don’t see it a lot,” he said. “Those things don’t happen every day. It’s always nice to have players bring [their babies] up to the office to see them and share in their growth.”
Another ACU player who had this privilege is senior outside linebacker Daniel Evans-Pickens, whose son Caleb is 9-1/2 months old.
“Having a child is more of a rush than any game or anything I’ve ever experienced,” he said
Evans-Pickens said that while fatherhood is rewarding, it’s also a humbling learning experience.
“I told Colby to cherish it,” he said. “I think he’s going to find some tough things about it. Parenting is a process, and sometimes you fall flat on your face. But it’s just like anything else; you learn from your mistakes and try your best not to repeat them.”
Colby looks at Averie and nods his head, as if to say he’s prepared for the tough times to come.
“I’m not scared about how to handle situations,” he says. “My biggest fear is neglecting her in any way. I want to make sure I’m always there for her the way my parents and Courtney’s parents have been.”
And if things go as planned, Averie will be there for Colby as well. Courtney plans on bringing her to every one of his games except for the season opener at the far-away Central Arkansas next Saturday.
“Oh, yes, she’ll be at the games,” says Courtney, taking Averie from her husband. The baby is wearing a No. 5 Colby Freeman jersey-style jumper that her grandmother made for her. “We need to get some more jerseys for her to wear to games,” Courtney says, “maybe a cheerleader outfit.”
“That’s an awesome thing,” says Colby, still smiling. “It’s hard to explain, but it’s comforting to know you have family who will be watching you.
“This is going to make Saturdays a lot less stressful. If anyone thinks standing in the pocket is stressful, they should try making a baby quit crying.”