Hugh Freeze leads camp at BlackWatch

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

NORTH SHELBY – For the first time since stepping down from his position as head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels, Hugh Freeze found himself waking up on a Saturday morning ready to coach a game he knows better than most.

Freeze, who had a freefall from prominence to disaster at Ole Miss in a short period of time, has met with coaches to teach the game and shared his story at churches and other events, but he had yet to get an opportunity to meet with kids and talk or coach the game of football.

On Saturday, May 12, that changed when he was invited by Jason Garner to lead a football camp at the BlackWatch Sports Complex in North Shelby County.

“This is really the first thing I’ve done with players at all,” Freeze said. “I told Jason, ‘I don’t care if it’s just 10 players. If you want me to talk to 10 players about life and about ball and schematics, I’m in.’ I was just pumped to spend some time with players.”

It wasn’t just 10 players, it was 50 of the best high school football recruits from the Metro-Birmingham area that attended the event, and something Freeze did free of charge just for the pure joy of getting to coach.

“I reached out to coach Freeze about a year ago and just told him ‘Hey, look, I know what you’re going through and I’d like to be able to get you down here to be a part of what we have going on to just talk football,’” Garner said.

Freeze emailed Garner back a short two days later, which started a friendship that sees the two of them talk about three times per week now.

“I’m just drawn to people that are investing in others,” Freeze said. “I was just drawn to his heart when he shared his passion and ideas with me.”

Most of Freeze’s speaking to this point has been with his wife Jill as they go around to churches and businesses to share the ups and downs of everything that has happened, but this camp excited him from the standpoint of just getting to coach young players again.

“Our vision became to give these kids a camp like no other,” Garner said. “He donated his time to do this. That’s big for him to come do this for us. We didn’t want this to be a dog and pony show.”

Garner said it was a camp meant to train these athletes hard on what it takes to be the best they can be and what to expect in the recruiting process as well as the transition to the college level of competition.

It’s something that became a valuable learning experience for several of the best recruits in the country. With Shelby County and central Alabama having possibly it’s best recruits ever, several of the young men invited to the prestigious camp learned lessons that will pay off down the line.

Freeze spent the camp doing a question and answer segment with the student-athletes talking about the recruiting process, running drills with the players and then sharing a talk with them about life to wind down the event.

“It gave me a day to do what I love to do,” Freeze said. “Not only did I get to spend a day coaching these kids, but I also got to talk with them about life. I have a lot to share, good and bad, and I don’t mind opening up that side of my life to hopefully make a difference.”

Freeze said a big part of the camp was sharing the importance of setting goals.

“It’s easy to slide and forget your core values,” he said. “You have to goal set and stay true to your core values. You can’t quit. Whatever happens, good, bad, ugly, you can’t ever give up. That’s not true for just this game, but for life. The world is going beat you down at times. You’re going to experience it at some point.”

Aside from the life lessons, which Freeze put plenty of emphasis on, there was also some football taught.

And for the players there aren’t many better offensive minds to learn from.

You could sense Freeze’s excitement when he talked about getting the opportunity to coach the quarterbacks and one in particular stood out during the day as the overall MVP went to a familiar name in Calera quarterback Cornelius Brown, a rising senior.

A fellow county player that won an award, and a popular target among the quarterbacks, was none other than Spain Park receiver Kenyon Hines, who took home the coaches award.

All-in-all it was an impressive day for everyone involved. The players got to learn how to not only handle life on the football field, but off the field as well, while taking with them valuable lessons on the next few years of their life.

Freeze, on the other hand, got the first opportunity to get back to what he knows best and what he loves most. His passion for the game and impacting young men’s lives is second to none, but rebuilding his reputation and proving himself as a better person is a work in progress.

“First and foremost I’m a Christian,” Garner said. “We’re all broken and we all struggle with things. People are quick to judge, especially when your life is under a microscope. He’s made so many positive changes in his life. His goal with this camp and beyond is to show that he just cares about helping young athletes.”

While Freeze has the obvious goal of getting back into coaching, he and his wife are happy with the work they are doing now.

“Jill and I surrendered everything to God’s timing,” he said. “I obviously know what I want. My flesh wants to coach, but we’re doing a lot of good things now with the time we have.”

Freeze did say he expects to coach again someday, but the timing isn’t pressed because he knows it’s a process and people will have their reservations. But he knows the person he has become and that the time he has had to reflect will be a difference maker.

“The school that does give me an opportunity is going to get a better man and better coach,” Freeze said. “More determined, more equipped and more passionate. I’m going to be much better than I ever have been. I’ve had time to evaluate every single aspect of my life and running a program I’ve got a great idea of exactly how I see it unfolding when the opportunity does come.”