Rookie Devonta Freeman already beat odds

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
5:15
PM ET
Devonta Freeman has no worries.

The Atlanta Falcons' rookie running back must have felt like he won the lottery after receiving his $475,000-plus signing bonus as part of a four-year, $2.7 million contract. But flashing his new riches was the last of his concerns.

Taking care of his mother, Lorraine, was at the forefront of his thoughts.

"Me personally, I don’t want nothing," Freeman said. "I promise you. I can’t tell you one thing I want. It’s just good to know I ain’t got to want for nothing, and I can take care of my family. I don’t want no car. I’ve got a car.

[+] EnlargeDevonta Freeman
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesDevonta Freeman on his first pro contract: "As long as my momma's good and I know that I can always grab some money and buy her something, I'm good."
"As long as my momma’s good and I know that I can always grab some money and buy her something, I’m good. But there ain’t nothing that I want. I just want this opportunity to play football."

Freeman will have plenty of opportunity to prove his value immediately. A left hamstring injury is likely to sideline veteran starter Steven Jackson for the bulk of the preseason, allowing Freeman and Jacquizz Rodgers to receive more backfield reps in training camp and exhibition games. Freeman already has shown flashes of his ability to be an every-down back.

"He’s a good back, young back, fresh legs," running backs coach Gerald Brown said of Freeman. "He has good agility. I think he’s going to be a really good receiver for us. And I think at the end of the day, he’s going to be a good football player for us."

A number of folks around the organization, including the three-time Pro Bowler Jackson, have commented about Freeman’s humbleness.

It’s easy to understand the rookie's demeanor considering he grew up in a violent, drug-invested area of Miami known as the "Pork 'N Beans" projects.

His mentor Luther Campbell, an entertainer and rapper best known for his role as Luke Skywalker with the 2 Live Crew, offered the best explanation of Freeman’s surroundings.

"The only difference between the "Pork 'N Beans" and Afghanistan is that there are no roadside bombs," Campbell said. "Everything else, they’ve got.

"The big thing for me was to see Devonta get to college so he could get out of there and get a real roof over his head and some food every night. ... But sometimes you can’t worry about the situation you’re in. You just have man up and go to work."

Freeman figured he had to find a way to help his struggling mother, who worked at a hospital and a warehouse as she raised him and five siblings. So as a young teen, Freeman took on three odds job to help provide financial support.

The first was a job at Richardson Memorial Funeral Home, set up by another of his mentors, Dwight Jackson. Freeman’s responsibilities included opening the limo doors for the grieving families and handing attendees flowers to place at the grave site.

"I’d make $150, $200, depending on how many funerals," Freeman explained. "On a packed day, we’d have like four funerals, which meant $250. That was a lot of money."

Freeman kept his free days occupied by washing cars as well. One of the friends, "Junior," had a mobile wash attached to a trailer.

"I would wash like one car the whole day for four hours and would earn like $50. "I know how to wash a car, good. I could start my car wash company and I could wash cars like in the cracks, under the tires. I know how to do everything."

Freeman’s other work was doing chores around Campbell’s home. Campbell started the Optimist youth program and coached Freeman and then again as a volunteer coach at Miami Central high school before Freeman attended Florida State.

"And I was cleaning the walls in Uncle Luke’s house," Freeman said. "If anything, it taught us in life, nothing is free."

His hard work on the football field could result in a lucrative contract one day. If he achieves such status, don’t expect Freeman to alter his mindset.

"As long as I can make the team, play on Sunday, that’s all I want," he said. "The money, I guarantee you the money will be there if you check my bank account. I promise you that."

Vaughn McClure

ESPN Atlanta Falcons reporter

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