SALINAS — He was invited to watch a game in the fall, followed by an invitation to attend spring practice in March. Conversations with the receivers coach at Fresno State ensued.
The pieces for Josiah Freeman’s future were coming together. The 6-foot-3 receiver envisioned himself as a Bulldog.
“I sat down with the receivers coach and he told me I could be one of those guys that fits in right away,” Freeman said. “I could feel the atmosphere was something different. I saw myself there.”
So did Fresno State. Yet, while the interest seemed clearly mutual, no offer was put on the table for the Hartnell College receiver — until last week.
“Some of it was on me,” Freeman said. “I needed to take care of business in the classroom. They wanted to see me progress with my academics.”
But not before Freeman had a dozen other scholarship offers on the table, including last-minute calls from Pac-12 contenders Washington and Washington State.
“Washington State offered him,” Hartnell coach Matt Collins said. “Washington wanted to sign him without a visit. But Josiah felt really good about the Fresno State situation.”
Freeman will join former Hartnell kicker and Alisal product Abraham Montano at Fresno State. But not until the spring of 2023 as he will remain a Panther this fall.
“He had schools that wanted him there this fall,” Collins said. “But it made more sense for him to come in the spring and have the time to learn the system and put himself in a position to compete.”
An all-state selection in the fall for the Panthers, Freeman caught 50 passes for nearly 900 yards and 10 touchdowns in just eight games.
The Soledad graduate led the state in receiving yards at 108.3 per game. A fifth of his catches last year went for touchdowns, as Freeman averaged just under 18 yards a catch.
“My route running is what I worked on the most,” Freeman said. “I needed to get out on breaks and create separation. I was like a sponge during the pandemic, soaking up as much as I could.”
Freeman wasn’t without his share of suitors, as offers also came from Nevada, New Mexico, Utah State and Toledo before Washington State and Washington made late pushes.
“He can’t be manhandled,” Collins said. “He’s gotten stronger in the weight room. He takes care of the ball and makes things happen after the catch. Josiah made plays in clutch situations. He’s set the bar high.”
Having attended the Sacramento State mega camp earlier this month for junior college players, Freeman didn’t leave without an offer from Fresno State.
“The receivers coach was there,” said Freeman, who has run 4.5 in the 40-yard dash on a chiseled 195-pound frame. “He called me over and told me he liked what he had seen. We’re going to offer you a full ride.”
The Bulldogs, who were ranked as high as No. 18 in the nation last year, have a storied history of churning out receivers, including current Pro Bowler Davante Adams of the Raiders.
“They are a receiver factor,” Collins said. “By the time Josiah’s number comes up, he will be in a position to compete. The confidence is there.”
Another season like last year could make Freeman the all-time leader in receptions and yards at Hartnell. His goals, though, go beyond individual achievements.
“I want to be more of a leader, someone my teammates can look up to,” Freeman said. “I want them to feed off my energy. My standards haven’t changed. I want a conference title.”
Last year Hartnell lost two games by two points or less, and another in overtime in a 4-6 season.
“Coming back is going to give me more time to develop and play one more season with a lot of my friends. We have a lot of unfinished business. We expect to do better things.”
With the weight of his future lifted off his shoulders, the next step for Freeman is fine-tuning his game, continuing to develop and preparing for the next chapter.
“This one (chapter) hasn’t been closed,” Freeman said. “My yards after the catch have to get better. I’m so excited to play and show we’re a better team. We’re going to do bigger things.”
Contributed by local news sources