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Freeman settling in at new spot, again

by Dan Shrensky

CORRESPONDENT

MORGANTOWN -- Kevin Freeman has reached the end of the line with the West Virginia football team. And frankly, that's just fine with him.

Freeman a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior, has started the last two games at defensive end for the Mountaineers, at last achieving stability in a restless career.

Freeman, from Carteret, N.J., entered Don Nehlen's program as a middle linebacker, made two starts as a redshirt freshman rush linebacker in 1999, played mainly on special teams last year and started under coach Rich Rodriguez' regime as a defensive tackle.

He was quickly moved to the outside early in the season after ankle injuries limited the effectiveness of fellow ends Antwan Lake and Jason Davis.

"Right now I'm settling in, I'm getting used to it," Freeman said. "At rush linebacker there was a little more responsibility, but now at d-end we're not dropping back into pass coverage."

With less responsibility, Freeman can concentrate on getting to the quarterback and making plays.

In fact, his instructions from line coach Jeff Casteel are simply "attack the line of scrimmage, get upfield, play ball, basically. We're kind of simple up front."

According to nose tackle David Upchurch, Freeman is a quick study at his new position.

"He's playing real well for us," Upchurch said. "He's had a couple of chances to start and he's produced a lot for us. He's given us a big boost and big lift."

Freeman had six tackles and an interception last week in WVU's 80-7 blowout over Rutgers.

As the season progresses, Freeman says he will continue to work on pass rush techniques that will help him overcome bigger offensive tackles. Casteel says learning and work ethic have never been problems with Freeman.

"He's a guy who's hung in there and kept plugging and plugging until he got his opportunity and he's done a good job with it," Casteel said. "He's always been one of the hardest working kids we have. He understands the concepts and what you're trying to get across. He's a smart kid and he's got real good instincts."

n ARE YOU EXPERIENCED?: If nothing else, playing the second half against Rutgers gave freshman Shane Graham a little perspective on fellow linebackers Kyle Kayden, Grant Wiley and Corey McIntyre.

"I was telling Kyle right after the game in the locker room, I gained a whole new respect for him and Grant and Corey Mac," Graham said. "You see them out there ... I always thought they were good linebackers, but then you get out there and experience what they just went through, and you realize that you're getting your butt kicked and they're not. You get a lot of respect for guys out there."

Graham was not completely disappointed with his performance but quickly recognized an a few things he'll need to work on for next year.

"The first eight plays in there you could have called me a sophomore in high school," he said. "After a few plays I kind of got the hold of it. I think I played OK but I think I'm too light right now.

"Before next year I 'll gain 10 or 15 pounds, hopefully of solid muscle, because I was getting knocked around like a ping pong ball out there."

n MORE FREENEY: Despite closing in on a host of school, Big East and national records, an interview with the Sporting News' Jeff D'Alessio proves Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney is human after all:

TSN: Who's the toughest lineman you've ever gone up against?

DF: (Auburn's Kendall) Simmons was tough. He had some really good hands and good feet. Back when I was a freshman, there was this guy named (Solomon) Page from West Virginia. I was a young pup. I didn't know what was going on. He just dominated me. I wasn't in there for the whole game, but when I was in there, it was the worst time of my life."

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