Oregon running back Royce Freeman opened his 2016 Heisman Trophy candidacy with two touchdowns in a 25-point victory for the Ducks against UC Davis on Saturday afternoon. As Freeman goes, so go the Ducks this season and head coach Mark Helfrich could not have asked for more from his leader.
Despite the light workload, Freeman rushed 11 times for 87 yards and two scores, averaging 7.9 yards a clip. The Imperial, California native rushed for a long of 49 yards on Saturday, while also catching two balls for five yards.
When asked if he bought into his own Heisman hype by the Los Angeles Times this summer, Royce Freeman calmly denied the bait.
“Honestly, it’s an honor to be mentioned on the list and be mentioned with those guys and those types of players,” Freeman said. “But, it’s a long road from now. So moving forward, I can’t even be thinking about that right now.”
Entering his career at Oregon nearly three years ago, Freeman understood and appreciated the rich history of Duck running backs that came before him. You can also see it in his game if you watch close enough. The passion and drive that Freeman exudes on every play illustrates he is playing for much more than just a professional contract.
“Before I got to campus, I was already watching clips of their (Oregon) former backs on YouTube; guys like LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner, De’Anthony Thomas,” Freeman told The Players Tribune. “Each of them have different styles, but they were all really successful in Oregon’s system. I knew if I put in the time, I could have a lot of success there, too.”
The Pac-12 opponents on the Ducks schedule this season are already keenly aware of Freeman’s talent. During his freshman season, the 5-foot, 11-inch bulldozer rushed for 1,365 yards including a ridiculous 18 touchdowns.
“There’s no place like Oregon. They do everything for the players. The people they bring through to speak to you, the personnel they surround you with, the facilities, all of these things continue to blow my mind,” said Freeman.
Helfrich has been very wise to moderate the Heisman hopeful’s workload early this season. 13 total touches in the Ducks’ opener is exactly what the doctor ordered for long term success as the season wears on this year.
“The lessons off the field are the things that make Oregon different from other schools,” Freeman stated. “Oregon wants you to be a good person, and they go out of their way to set you up for life after football.”
Nevertheless, his sophomore encore was far more impressive yardage wise, amassing 1,838 rushing yards. Freeman’s insane 17 scores was still one less than the year before, but he stepped up his receiving game with 26 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns. That was a mouthful, but his junior season is sure to be his best and most complete barring any health issues.
“I’m excited about this year’s team. Our young core of receivers, in particular, I think are really going to surprise people,” said the star running back. “For me, this is all part of the journey. In college, you get tested, you learn your own ways, especially being away from home. But I’m learning a lot about myself being here.”
There is no question that Freeman will have his legs under him within the month and that can only be bad news for the opposition. He is already near the top of the all-time Oregon ranks in a vast number of categories for the running back position. However, at the end of the day, he may go down as the greatest Duck running back in team history.