Freier­muth left in­deli­ble mark on small prep school in Mas­sachusetts

Centre Daily Times - - Front Page - BY JOHN MCGONIGAL jm­c­go­ni­[email protected]­tredaily.com

Forty-five min­utes north of Bos­ton sits a 270-acre cam­pus for 370 kids, a pri­vate prep school si­t­u­ated on pic­turesque Lake Cochichewick. The Brooks School — which ad­mits 12 per­cent of those who ap­ply — boards stu­dents from 29 states and 26 coun­tries and boasts a Who’s Who alumni list that in­cludes Olympians, ac­tors and a For­tune 500 CEO.

But never in its 92-year his­tory has the Brooks School pro­duced an NFL player. Never has it pro­duced a sure-fire fresh­man All-Amer­i­can. Never has it pro­duced a kid like Pat Freier­muth.

“He was the best player ever at our school and ar­guably our con­fer­ence,” said Brooks School head coach Pa­trick Fo­ley, Freier­muth’s cousin and god­fa­ther, dur­ing a quiet Mon­day af­ter­noon in his of­fice. “But he did it in a hum­ble way.”

Freier­muth — Penn State’s break­out tight end who led the team with seven touch­down re­cep­tions in 2018 — is an anom­aly in north­ern Mas­sachusetts. The 6-foot-5, 258-pounder, a for­mer four-star prospect with of­fers from Ohio State, Notre Dame and LSU, dom­i­nated the New Eng­land prep league — ac­count­ing for 1,531 yards and 24 to­tal touch­downs in three sea­sons.

But Freier­muth’s im­pact at the Brooks School goes be­yond the stacked stat sheet. The Mer­ri­mac na­tive was a team­mate, friend and class­mate, some­one the whole com-

mu­nity could get be­hind. He el­e­vated a pro­gram, re­mained a leader on the bas­ket­ball team even af­ter hang­ing up his sneak­ers and stayed with the school when most would have left.

In the words of Fo­ley, Freier­muth’s legacy is “a com­bi­na­tion of ex­cel­lence and hu­mil­ity,” the kind that makes ev­ery­one proud to say they knew “Fry” be­fore he stepped foot in Happy Val­ley.

“He has the re­spect of peo­ple,” the coach said. “Foot­ball fans or not, they’re Pat Fry fans.”

SAV­IOR

The Brooks School foot­ball field doesn’t have bleach­ers. In­stead, Anna K. Trustey Field, a stone’s throw from Fo­ley’s of­fice, has a three-tiered rock wall for pa­trons to sit on and a grassy area for lawn chairs.

On av­er­age, 100, maybe 200, peo­ple show up to see Fo­ley’s team ev­ery Satur­day af­ter­noon. It’s a low-key pro­gram that needed a star like Freier­muth to come along when he did.

When Freier­muth trans­ferred from his lo­cal pub­lic school, Pen­tucket, af­ter his sopho­more year, the Brooks School was com­ing off a 7-2 sea­son. Not bad for a team that man­aged four wins the pre­vi­ous four sea­sons. But statewide con­cerns over con­cus­sions, com­bined with a small pool of play­ers to pick from, caused the Brooks School to look in the mir­ror be­fore Fo­ley’s time and de­cide if it could con­tinue foot­ball.

“There are some big­pic­ture ques­tions ev­ery­one is deal­ing with right now around num­bers. And at smaller schools, it hits even harder. There just aren’t that many kids,” said John McVeigh, the school’s dean of fac­ulty. “But Pat in­jected life into the foot­ball pro­gram. Kids came here to play foot­ball be­cause they wanted to play with him. He put us on the map.”

In Freier­muth’s three sea­sons in North Andover, the Brooks School went 19-7. The pro­gram reached two NEPSAC bowl games and cap­tured the con­fer­ence ti­tle in 2017, as well as a share of the In­de­pen­dent School League Cham­pi­onship in 2016.

As a se­nior, Freier­muth owned both sides of the ball. The stand­out tal­lied 815 to­tal yards (613 re­ceiv­ing, 202 rush­ing), 15 to­tal touch­downs (seven re­ceiv­ing, five rush­ing, three de­fen­sive) and five forced fum­bles. In a Week 6 win over St. Se­bas­tian’s, Freier­muth had six catches for 163 yards and two touch­downs — a one-handed, 10-yard grab and a 94-yard score thanks to four bro­ken tack­les.

“I’ve been in the league for 40 years, and he is the best foot­ball player I have ever seen in our league,” said St. Se­bas­tian’s coach Bob Souza, who faced Bos­ton Col­lege run­ning back and Doak Walker Award semi­fi­nal­ist AJ Dil­lon. “I’ve never seen a kid that dom­i­nated a game the way he did.”

In his se­nior send­off at Brooks, a 24-14 vic­tory over New Hamp­ton (N.H.) in the Ken O’Keefe Bowl, Freier­muth caught a 44yard touch­down and ce­mented a win on de­fense.

“This kid goes, ‘Penn State who?’ I heard him say that, and I look over at Pat and saw his face,” Brooks cor­ner­back Con­nor Silva re­called with a grin. “The very next play, that kid who chirped him ran the ball, and Pat picked him up and lit­er­ally took the ball right out of his hands. Pat was like, ‘Yeah, Penn State.’ And that was the game.”

Added New Hamp­ton coach Ed Ki­ley: “He was the best player in New Eng­land last year, if not the North­east . ... He was a game-changer.”

SAC­RI­FICE

Al­most a year ago to the day, there was a buzz new to Brooks’ cen­tury-old cam­pus. Af­ter break­fast at the Freier­muth’s, Penn State head coach James Franklin and his staff — of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ricky Rahne, tight ends coach Tyler Bowen and as­so­ciate head coach Sean Spencer — vis­ited the place that shaped their even­tual start­ing tight end.

“That was cool,” Brooks School dean of stu­dents Wil­lie Wa­ters said with a smile. “All th­ese guys you see on TV walk­ing around this lit­tle, tiny cam­pus? ... There’s a pocket of col­lege foot­ball fans who would rec­og­nize James Franklin in an air­port. But then there’s 70 per­cent of the kids here who have no idea. It was an in­ter­est­ing dy­namic.”

Dec. 5, 2017 was a spe­cial oc­ca­sion for Freier­muth. But the next day, he was back with his team. The bas­ket­ball team, that is.

Sur­prise, sur­prise. The uber ath­letic tight end — like Mike Gesicki be­fore him — was a star for­ward in high school. As McVeigh, the head bas­ket­ball coach, noted, Freier­muth came to the Brooks School in 2015 and was rec­og­nized more on the hard­wood than he was on the grid­iron. Freier­muth scored more than 600 points and guided Pen­tucket to a state semi­fi­nal ap­pear­ance as a sopho­more, and in his first year at Brooks, he led McVeigh’s squad in points per game as its sixth man.

“I have no doubt he would have been a Di­vi­sion I bas­ket­ball player,” McVeigh said. “No ques­tion.”

In 2015 and 2016, the Brooks School, a New Eng­land prep league power be­fore and af­ter Freier­muth, went 47-4 and hoisted ev­ery tro­phy it could. Last sea­son, McVeigh’s team went 23-0. But it had to do so with­out its star player.

Freier­muth — the son of a col­lege bas­ket­ball player and high school coach — gave up the sport be­fore his se­nior year. His foot­ball fu­ture was too bright, and the risk of in­jury wasn’t worth it. That didn’t stop him from study­ing the op­po­nent’s big man and em­u­lat­ing him in prac­tice. It didn’t stop him from go­ing to ev­ery game, ev­ery work­out, and pro­vid­ing a cap­tain’s voice.

But sac­ri­fic­ing bas­ket­ball wasn’t easy. What made it harder? While Freier­muth watched the Brooks School win a New Eng­land ti­tle, his fu­ture team­mates — the likes of Micah Par­sons, Jesse Luketa and Zack Kuntz — grad­u­ated early and en­rolled at Penn State for the spring se­mes­ter. And the Brooks School wouldn’t let him do the same.

In­stead, if Freier­muth wanted to be­come a Nit­tany Lion by Jan­uary, he would have had to trans­fer back to Pen­tucket, wrap up his se­nior year there in the fall and get to Happy Val­ley for spring prac­tice. “He knew he had big things ahead. He knew he didn’t want to miss out, and he didn’t want to put him­self be­hind,” McVeigh said. “But he didn’t want to dis­ap­point any­body, ei­ther. That’s how he is.”

When de­nied by the Brooks School brass, Freier­muth de­cided to stick it out. “It showed what he thought of this place,” Wa­ters added. “He be­lieved enough in his abil­ity that the amount of time wasn’t go­ing to make or break his col­lege ca­reer. And it didn’t. It worked out.”

It worked out pri­mar­ily be­cause Freier­muth didn’t mope or whine. He didn’t get com­pla­cent or lazy. Ev­ery day be­fore bas­ket­ball prac­tice, Freier­muth ran routes in the multi-court Dan­forth Gym­na­sium and sat at the scorer’s ta­ble, por­ing over Penn State’s play­book.

One evening in Fe­bru­ary, McVeigh walked over to the ta­ble to check on Freier­muth. The tight end picked his head up and said, “I need to be ready.”

“For what­ever any­one else thought about this year, I think Pat Freier­muth thought, ‘I’m go­ing to go down there and com­pete to play right away,’” McVeigh said, nod­ding his head. “That was how he pre­pared in ev­ery way.”

SUP­PORT

The 25 res­i­dents of the Chase House stood silently in their com­mon room, breath held, eyes fix­ated on the TV. It was a Fri­day night, and their for­mer class­mate’s first ca­reer touch­down was in ques­tion dur­ing the Penn StateIlli­nois game.

“It was scary,” Brooks of­fen­sive line­man An­thony Bur­nett said. “They were re­view­ing it.”

Added Silva, this year’s quar­ter­back: “It was funny, though. He stum­bled and al­most fell.”

No, it wasn’t grace­ful. But it worked. Freier­muth’s 5-yard score at Illi­nois on Sept. 21 — the first of seven in Big Ten play — was up­held. And the Chase House, as well as the rest of Brooks’ dorms, erupted. Bur­nett ran to his room to grab his phone so he could catch the re­play for his Snapchat story. Silva said 40 Brooks foot­ball play­ers posted the same thing.

“The next day ev­ery­one was talk­ing about it,” Silva added. “It was the word around cam­pus.”

News of Freier­muth’s touch­down-laden fresh­man cam­paign trav­eled fast. Fo­ley and McVeigh both say they’ve seen more Penn State hats, shirts and flags around town than ever be­fore. Bos­ton is a pro sports town, but Freier­muth has carved a niche fol­low­ing in New Eng­land.

For those who get Big Ten Net­work, Penn State foot­ball has be­come ap­point­ment view­ing. That’s es­pe­cially true for the stu­dents, fac­ulty and fam­i­lies at Brooks.

“My son thinks Pat walks on wa­ter,” McVeigh said of his 11-year-old, Jack. “It’s Pat, and then Tom Brady. Which is say­ing some­thing for a Mas­sachusetts kid.” Wa­ters, whose 5-year-old would “pick him out of a lineup and run over to him,” be­lieves Freier­muth’s down-to-earth per­son­al­ity makes it easy to pull for him.

When prospec­tive stu­dents and fam­i­lies from out-of-state came to visit, Freier­muth was one of Brooks’ best tour guides. When­ever the base­ball team played last spring, Freier­muth sat be­hind home plate and was “the team’s big­gest cheer­leader,” Bur­nett said. And when it came time to pick an out-of-cur­ricu­lum, win­ter term class, Freier­muth chose to help out at a lo­cal preschool. Wa­ters also re­calls Freier­muth vol­un­teer­ing at Brooks’ sum­mer camp, walk­ing around with kids cling­ing to his arms.

“He’s the best foot­ball player to have ever gone here. But I think a legacy is more that you can be in that strato­sphere of an ath­lete and be to­tally one of the peo­ple here,” Wa­ters said. “Who knows? Maybe he’ll play in the NFL. You’d never know that if you talked to him.”

Added McVeigh: “He takes ev­ery­thing so se­ri­ously. But he doesn’t take him­self se­ri­ously.”

Maybe that’s why for­mer class­mates com­pare him to Pa­tri­ots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Maybe it’s be­cause now the Nit­tany Lion wears No. 87. Or maybe it’s be­cause, like Wa­ters men­tioned, Freier­muth’s ex­cit­ing 2018 cam­paign has peo­ple talk­ing about what lies ahead.

Souza, the St. Se­bas­tian’s head coach, said Freier­muth “might be the best tight end in col­lege foot­ball next year.” That could be the case if he be­comes Tommy Stevens’ go-to red-zone tar­get like he has for Trace McSor­ley this year. Heck, if not for Iowa’s tan­dem of Noah Fant and T.J. Hock­en­son, Freier­muth would have re­ceived se­ri­ous All-Big Ten con­sid­er­a­tion. His seven touch­downs were tied for the sec­ond-most in the coun­try, af­ter all.

It is too soon to dis­cuss Freier­muth’s NFL po­ten­tial. He’s 20 years old, and so much can hap­pen be­tween now and then. But that’s not go­ing to stop the peo­ple at Brooks from dream­ing.

“You al­ways start to think, ‘What is this go­ing to lead to? What’s next?’” Fo­ley said. “You don’t want to get too far ahead. But the suc­cess he had as a fresh­man, if he gets bet­ter as a sopho­more and gets bet­ter as a ju­nior and a se­nior, that’s a pretty good tra­jec­tory. That’s ex­cit­ing to think about.”

FREIER­MUTH – THE SON OF A COL­LEGE BAS­KET­BALL PLAYER AND HIGH SCHOOL COACH – GAVE UP THE SPORT BE­FORE HIS SE­NIOR YEAR. HIS FOOT­BALL FU­TURE WAS TOO BRIGHT, AND THE RISK OF IN­JURY WASN’T WORTH IT.

ABBY DREY [email protected]­tredaily.com

Penn State tight end Pat Freier­muth makes a catch dur­ing the game against Michi­gan State ear­lier this sea­son.

Brooks School

Penn State tight end Pat Freier­muth glides into the end zone at Anna K. Trustey Field. The Brooks School stand­out ac­counted for 24 to­tal touch­downs in his three-year ca­reer.

Brooks School

Penn State tight end Pat Freier­muth poses with Brooks School team­mates Sea­mus Lam­bert (9) and Ter­rell Brown (1) af­ter the pro­gram’s 2017 bowl win over New Hamp­ton.

Brooks School

Penn State tight end Pat Freier­muth was a star at the Brooks School, and left a mark on the pro­gram and com­mu­nity.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.