Josh Freeman got his chance at quarterback when the expected freshman starter at Grandview High School broke his hand
Josh Freeman started playing soccer and flag football at the age of six, and later found a talent for basketball, as well. On the gridiron, he developed primarily into a running back and linebacker as he advanced through grade school and middle school. His father, Ron, played professional football in the USFL, so Freeman developed childhood dreams about making it to the NFL himself.
You could definitely say that the seeds were sewn early for Freeman's arrival in Florida as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' franchise-quarterback-in-the-making. However, he might never have found his talent as a passer – or at least not uncovered it as quickly – if it weren't for a particularly rough moment of sibling rivalry.
Not for Freeman himself, though he did have a younger brother. Rather, we speak of another young man who was earmarked to play quarterback in 2002 for the freshman team at Grandview High School in the Kansas City metro area. Those plans changed when the freshman-to-be got irritated at his younger brother, tried to throw a punch and ended up with a fractured hand.
The Grandview coaches, knowing Freeman was a talented athlete with a good arm, gave him a choice as he entered the ninth grade: He could start at linebacker for the varsity team or play quarterback for the freshman squad.
Freeman chose to play quarterback, which proved to be a wise decision. He would eventually throw for over 7,000 yards as a prep and by the time he was finished with his Grandview career would be the top-rated QB prospect in the state of Missouri.
It didn't hurt that Freeman sprouted in his sophomore year of high school, going from slightly taller than average to roughly his current height of 6-5. He took over as the varsity starter that year and, despite enjoying the linebacker position, rapidly became convinced that quarterback was where he wanted to be.
"I think it's something about having the football in your hands throughout the entire game, being in control of making plays," said Freeman. "I enjoy the demands of the position."
There are no diverging options for Freeman now as he begins his NFL career in Tampa. That choice he made as a prep freshman put him on a path towards the 17th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, and all that comes with being a first-round quarterback. First-rounders sometimes start right away, like Atlanta's Matt Ryan, and sometimes bide their time behind established starters, like Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, but they all are meant to be franchise cornerstones. Given the Bucs' unsettled situation under center, it could go either way for Freeman, but he's not looking that far ahead.
"I really have no expectations, other than eventually being a starter," he said on Monday as he was introduced to the Bay area media in a press conference at team headquarters. "I don't know if it's going to be this year, I don't know if it's going to be next year or when it's going to be. All I'm going to do is come in and work as hard as I can and try to put myself in the best position to make this team better."
Ron Freeman told his son, as he left for college, that working hard and staying quiet was the only way for a newcomer to earn the respect of his teammates. The younger Freeman believes that is also the best way to accelerate one's path to a starting position in the NFL.
"Really just keep your mouth shut and go to work. Obviously, I have a lot of respect for all these guys and I can't wait to get to know them a lot better, but I'm just going to come in and work as hard as I can and hope for the best. I think that's the only way a rookie can come in and earn respect.
"I think it's hard work, for sure. I was talking to Coach [Jeff] Jagodzinski last night about Matt Ryan and really it's just about how hard you're willing to work, the time you're willing to put in, that will ultimately lead to your success. Coming into this situation, I really like the coaches I'm going to be with. I plan on spending a lot of time in this building. I just think it comes down to how much effort you put in to see where you end up."
Of course, even with his head down over his playbook, Freeman won't be able to miss the amount of scrutiny that a quarterback attracts, particularly a "franchise quarterback." Instant reaction to his arrival won't matter in the long run; he'll be judged solely by wins and losses.
"I've been talking to a number of quarterbacks that are in the league and they say the same thing: It's not about what people are saying, it's about the attitude you carry into the office every day and your willingness to work," he said. "A great example is Donovan McNabb. They're ready to bench him and then he comes back and they win six games in a row and he takes them all the way to the NFC Championship Game. It's all about the attitude and listening to the right people.
"I think ultimately your judged by how you play, not where you get drafted. I'm fired up. I want to go out and win games, for the city of Tampa, for Ra, for myself and for the Buccaneers. I want to go out and help this team be successful, and that's my ultimate goal. I hear that they're great fans here and people respond to winning. I think if I go out and play well, we'll have no complaints."