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Lorenzo Freeman, Steelers Defensive Lineman, 1987-1990

February 25, 2012
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Lorenzo Freeman:

First, can you let readers know about your new coaching job at Valley High School – how you got started and what you are looking forward to in this new role?

I coached for several years before at McKees Rocks. I took time off after that, then Troy Hill, one of the coaches at Valley and I guy I used to play with, said he needed help. I had a couple of opportunities to talk to the coaches about their philosophy and coaching techniques. I was familiar with their techniques and got  interested in his philosophy, and started coaching for them.

What lessons from the coaches you played for in Pittsburgh do you find yourself falling back on now as a coach, and how?

Actually, it was a lot of coaches. I’d listen to them – it takes time for some things to sink in. Foge Fazio in college, Joe Moore, Dick Modzelweski in Green Bay all helped me.

Joe Greene – I tried to prove myself to him. I remember. He was a proven guy – I used to watch him growing up. Hearing him talk…I tried to absorb all he said.

Dungy – everybody wanted to perform for him. He was a soft-spoken guy – not a rah-rah guy. But he put it on the line for you – you knew where you stood with him.’

Coach Noll was another guy that stated things the way they were. We knew what to expect with him too and that makes you want to play harder. They all helped me to find my strengths.

Any specific lessons you remember?

Commitment. You have to believe in what you are doing. It’s more than just about technique when you are taking on double-teams. You’re more than likely going to lose. Greene taught me to just take care of the guy in front of me. Just commit to the guy in front of you and hopefully you can push him into the backfield.

You were drafted by Green Bay in 1987 – in round four. Yet you found yourself in Pittsburgh that season. What happened that first season that found yourself in Pittsburgh?

It’s kind of funny – I do get asked this a lot.I thought I was adjusting well in camp. It was the year of the strike – I was the first defensive lineman drafted by Green Bay that year.

Charlie Martin was the player ahead of me in camp, but he got in trouble the night before the strike and was released. They wanted me to play in place of him in a game later, and because of the strike I decided not to play. They looked at that negatively. I made it a point to try to prove myself after but it was too late.

How did you take your release?

It was a blessing. I worked out for the Steelers and Coach Greene asked me what happened in Green Bay. I told him the start of it and he told me he understood. I said to myself, he didn’t need the details. He understood.

Who helped mentor you as a rookie and helped you adjust to the Steelers and NFL – both on and off the field – and how did they do so?

I played at Pitt – I knew the area and the toughness the city expected. But the history of the Steelers…seeing the offensive line trapping and Joe Greene …I got to know more of the history. I wanted to fit in and be a part of it.

When I first got there Webster was still there – he was up there in age. I thought as a bigger, young kid, I gotta be able to take him off the ball. He knew all the techniques to be a finesses player though and showed me up in practice and frustrated me. He had that swagger after the play, walking back to the huddle.

Nosetackle was a new position for me – that was an adjustment too.

How did you adjust to the position?

Joe Greene helped me a lot at nosetackle. My height made it difficult for me. You had to stay low to keep your leverage – to keep your hips low and create separation between the center and guard. That way the double-team doesn’t hurt you as much.

The toughness part was Greene’s message. How to stay with it and play the position was simplified by Greene.

You played one of the toughest positions in football in Pittsburgh – the 3-4 defensive tackle. How frustrating is it getting double-teamed and beat up in the trenches, versus the 4-3 where you have more opportunities to make plays?

It was very frustrating. I hope I’m not out of line, but the position is more geared towards guys who are 6’1′ to 6′ 3″. My height made it difficult for me to stay low and play within my frame of body.

The linebackers look at the double-team – what they don’t realize is that the guard will eventually come off the double-team to get to the linebacker. Many linebackers get caught looking and react too late.

Jerry Olsavsky understood that best – maybe because he was undersized. He knew he had to come off fast into the line before the guard came off the double-team. He stepped up quickly and didn’t get caught watching the double-team like many linebackers do. At his size he had too.

Who were some of the toughest guys you faced- both in practices and on other teams and what made them so?

In Latrobe, we met the Redskins two-to-three times in camp. As a group they were the most difficult to play against.

Why?

If they ran a play to the right and it made three or four yards, you could bet your last dollar they’d run it again. They’d keep running it until you stopped it. Then, they’d run the same play on the opposite side. If we stopped them on our side, we’d tell the other side of the defense to watch out for it next (laughing).

In camp, Dawson – just for the sheer fact he was so darn quick. He was on you so fast. For strength and balance, Haselrig.  He  was  a former wrestler and was so tough with that hand strength. Ilkin was toughest from a pass protection standpoint. “One punch Tunch” – once he got his hands on you, you were done.

Who were some of the biggest characters on those Steelers teams you played for and what made them so? Any examples?

I’ll tell you (laughing) – Delton Hall and I still go at it. I go back and forth with him still and play golf with him at Walton’s tournament. I call him Frankenstein because of all of his surgeries. He’s getting better now…

Gerald Williams was  a character too. He and I used to got at it every day too.

In ’88, your second season in Pittsburgh, Art Rooney passed away. How did that affect you and the team that season, especially as the team on the field struggled to a 5-11 record?

The Steelers were a family organization. He always came in to the locker room during the week. It was amazing. As he got older, he’d still come in and talk to all the players and knew who everyone was. He knew where I played in college and would talk to me about the prior game and would converse with all of us about ourselves and the team.

So, we missed that. We enjoyed seeing his face. We knew he cared about us… it was just sad. No everyone talked about it but it impacted a lot of players. I don’t want to say it had anything to do with out record, but it was sad.

What prompted your move from the Steelers to the Giants in ’91, and how difficult was that for you?

I was released in ’91 and claimed off waivers by the Giants.

How was playing in New York for you?

It was the large market team versus small market team thing. You could sense the large market feeling. They had just won the Super Bowl the year before – it was an opportunity to have an impact and make it far into the playoffs. I didn’t happen that way but it was fun always being followed by the fans and media. It was a great atmosphere due to the Super Bowl win.

What do you think of today’s NFL – especially the changes made to enforce the passing game?

I liked the way we played prior to the changes. Players have to adjust  – it’s difficult to play in these new parameters without getting more fines. With the money players make, getting hit still should just be part of the game.

Any last thoughts for readers?

I grew up in New Jersey a life-long Steelers fan. Having the opportunity to find myself in a Steelers uniform was a dream come true. The opportunity to meet the legends I watched as a kid was a dream for me. I lived a dream and it just fell into place that way.

And growing up in a house full of Dallas fans, having them have to root for me was fun (laughing).

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