By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
As the doctor went to slap the X-ray on the light board, time froze for Colby Freeman.
Two days before, the senior quarterback for ACU had been sandwiched by a pair of Angelo State defenders en route to a 3-yard touchdown scamper and knocked out cold. When he woke up, his left arm hurt-bad.
The Brownwood native vowed he would play regardless his condition, but he still had to get the recommendation of a physician. Surely this guy will OK me for Saturday, Freeman thought. He couldn’t deal with the same nightmare he did two years ago, when a torn knee ligament kept him out of the majority of the 2001 season. Absolutely not. He had to play, no matter what.
“When he slapped that X-ray up there, I was looking right at that crack,” Freeman said, referring to the clean break of his left ulna. “I just stared right at it and got a sick feeling in my stomach.”
But he didn’t give up. Someone who reaches the No. 8 all-time passing mark in ACU history doesn’t quit that easily.
“I called all around the state,” Freeman said, trying desperately to find a physician who would prescribe him a special brace that would allow him back on the field. “I talked to trainers and surgeons at A&M, Houston, wherever. None of them recommended that I play. They said that if I fell and my hand hit the ground first, it would shift that bone right out of place. No one’s gonna release me with that.”
The only thing Freeman left the hospital with was a removable splint, a sling and a three-to-six-week estimate for his return. Thus, the earliest he could come back would be Nov. 15 at West Texas A&M, but three-week fracture recoveries are extremely rare.
“It’s definitely a letdown for me,” he said. “I really felt like I was starting to feel comfortable with our offense.”
The Brownwood native had already accumulated 966 yards on 70 of 160 passing with four touchdown passes this season, not to mention four touchdowns on 100 yards rushing. Those numbers were good enough to place him at No. 8 all-time for ACU in passing yards (3,804), completions (268) and touchdown passes (19).
“We’re very disappointed about Colby,” ACU head coach Gary Gaines said. “That’s tough for all of us, especially him. But we’ve been down this road before, and people always step up.”
Enter junior backup Greg Wiggins, who started six games for the Wildcats in 2001 after Freeman’s season-ending injury.
“This is nothing new to Greg,” Gaines said. “The players and coaches all have confidence in him.”
As does Freeman.
“Greg could easily start for us or any other Lone Star Conference team,” he said. “He’s been so patient waiting for his turn, and now he’s getting his shot. There’s no doubt he won’t lose a beat.”
Though he’s happy to help the Cats as a starter, Wiggins said he wishes it was under different circumstances.
“I hate it for Colby,” he said. “He’s one of my best friends in the world. He’s never been one to relish in accolades or accomplishments; he’s part of the team. We feel so bad for him because this is different than two years ago… he might have played his last game at ACU.”
Freeman’s and Wiggins’ friendship began in the spring of 2001, when Freeman transferred from Texas A&M to be ACU’s starter. Wiggins, who probably would’ve been the main man, was one of the first players to welcome Freeman to the team.
“He was very gracious about bringing me in and getting me adapted to ACU,” Freeman said. “That’s hard to do with someone who you’re competing against, but he did it anyway. That meant a lot to me.”
So now, the two off-field buddies will switch on-field roles; with Wiggins calling the shots from the line of scrimmage and Freeman assisting from the sideline. The change, Freeman said, will likely be a final realization for him.
“Saturday’s gonna be a hard day for me,” he said. “I don’t think it’s sunk in completely, but when I see all the players line up from the sideline-that will be tough.”
Of course, the slight chance remains that Freeman has not seen the last of his college career.
“We’re all hoping that the three-week diagnosis is correct,” Wiggins said. “We want him back, but if he isn’t back, we’ll still support him.”
Senior offensive guard Britt Lively, who transferred from Texas A&M along with Freeman, voiced his agreement.
“It’s tough to lose a guy like Colby,” he said. “He’s the kind of guy who’s always getting guys fired up. He’s a great leader for us and we’re gonna miss him.”
Freeman said he would still try to help out the team in practice by going around to the offensive and defensive linemen and other groups to show his appreciation for them. By doing this, perhaps the veteran leader will be able to block out of his mind the bitter truth that has already begun to plague him:
“I’m not ready to be through.”