As Indiana football progressed through fall camp, special teams coordinator Kasey Teegardin brought Chris Freeman in for a meeting.
Freeman had a bad day of practice, and Teegardin thought that was a good time to review his performance to that point. He slid a spreadsheet printout across the table to his kicker, showing every kick he’d attempted during preseason, with distances, hash-mark locations, and results.
Teegardin asked Freeman what he observed from the chart. Freeman said he was missing too much from the left hash.
That wasn’t what Teegardin was getting at. He told the redshirt sophomore he was converting 85 percent of his field goal attempts, a mark that would put him in elite company among NFL kickers. Just 19 kickers, ever, own career field goal percentages of 85 or higher.
“I wanted him to see that he is kicking 85 percent, regardless of where he’s missing from. And so I just pointed out to him, I said, ‘This is who you are.’ And then I pulled up the NFL, and there’s only one kicker [Justin Tucker] in NFL history that’s over 90 percent,” Teegardin said. “I said, ‘Think positively. This is who you are, and this is how good you can be.'”
That conversation ignited Freeman. He finished fall camp much stronger, and he rode that — along with his advantage in experience — to earn Indiana’s starting kicker job over true freshman Nico Radicic. Freeman was IU’s kickoff specialist last year, while Charles Campbell handled placekicking. He was placed on scholarship ahead of that 2022 season, after joining the program as a walk-on in 2020.
Freeman was a standout midfielder on the Zionsville (Ind.) High boys soccer team, and he joined the football team to kick when he was a sophomore. For three of his four years with the Eagles, he performed double duty: he’d leave soccer practices a little early to go to the football field and go through his kicking routine.
From the day Freeman started playing for Rob Jordan’s soccer program, Jordan knew he had a high-caliber athlete. He was one of Zionsville’s best players throughout his high school career, which culminated in an IHSAA Class 3A State title in 2019. Freeman was named Indiana Soccer Gatorade Player of the Year in that senior season.
“He stood out with his abilities,” Jordan said. “Particularly his foot, too. If you give an opportunity to get open and he’s got time to put his foot on that ball, he can just absolutely just rip one. It lent itself well to kicking a football as well.”
Freeman knew he wanted to play a sport in college, and didn’t care which one. Earlier in high school, he thought it would be soccer. And Jordan said, had he pursued it, Freeman was good enough to play Division I soccer.
But Freeman’s football profile grew quickly. He excelled at various kicking camps during the summer between his sophomore and junior year, and that was when Jordan knew what Freeman’s path would be.
That became apparent to Freeman even earlier. In his first-ever game with Zionsville football, as a sophomore, he hit a 37-yard game-winning field goal as time expired against Pike in the season-opener. That memory stuck with him.
“Everybody was running on the field, chanting my name, and I was like, ‘This is pretty cool, these Friday night lights,'” Freeman said. “That was kind of the moment that I was like, ‘This could be the real deal.'”
He made several clutch kicks like that during his three years with Eagles football, and some from much further out. Not all came on the final play of the game, but the pressure in those late-game moments remains the same. Handling that mental side of the game is a crucial part of a kicker’s job. They have to deliver in the clutch, no matter who messes with their head.
Freeman is able to ignore the noise and focus on the task at hand by trusting the work he and his teammates put in to get to that point. But even when he started kicking at Zionsville, he had a frame of reference to lean on: his experience taking penalty kicks in soccer.
It’s perhaps the closest sports comparison to the tension of a late-game field goal. The entire game could come down to that one swing of the leg. Freeman took penalty kicks for Zionsville throughout his high school soccer career, and he shined in those moments.
“That’s a lot of pressure, when you have to stand up there, it’s just one person and the keeper, and you’ve got everybody and their uncle yelling at you. He’s able to tune all that stuff out, and he just goes about his business and takes care of it,” Jordan said. “I don’t recall him ever missing any penalty kicks. I don’t remember anybody even touching them. They were just so well-hit and placed.”
The power Jordan referenced seamlessly translated to football kicking. Freeman’s strong leg has long stood out.
Scott Turnquist took over as Zionsville’s head football coach in 2019, Freeman’s senior year. He started in the spring, and got to know Freeman a bit early on, but was still pretty new when the Eagles held their college showcase. Turnquist had heard good things, and seen Freeman kick a few balls during spring workouts, but wasn’t prepared for the prowess he’d display for various college coaches.
“He got out there in the college showcase and he was hitting like 60-yarders. And I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness. We really got something here,'” Turnquist said. “The physical ability was there, and it was very apparent.”
At Zionsville, Freeman occasionally performed card tricks on his coaches and teammates. Jordan recalled one that left him in amazement. He picked a card, then mixed it back in with the rest of the deck, and Freeman proceeded to knock all the cards out of Jordan’s hands except for his original card.
Freeman needed some magic on his first field goal attempt as a Hoosier, as well.
He took the field in the middle of the second quarter against Ohio State, for a 42-yard field goal from the right hash. IU was hanging in against the top-five opponent, trailing by just a touchdown, and Freeman looked to cut into the deficit.
He anticipated far more nerves than he felt running on the field for that first attempt. He was confident in his ability and his preparation, just like Turnquist felt while watching from the Memorial Stadium stands and Jordan felt while watching from home. But after Freeman kicked the ball, it drifted towards the right goalpost.
They all attempted to spiritually guide the ball to the inside. Turnquist leaned so hard, trying to will the ball the other way, that he nearly fell off the bleacher into the aisle.
Freeman also leaned to the side, and prayed.
“The big man upstairs gave it a little blow to the left,” Freeman said. “I didn’t even know that I was leaning, and then I saw it on the TV, and I was cracking up.”
Freeman is off to a good start as IU’s placekicker. He’s made both of his two field goal attempts, and he’s 3 for 3 on extra points.
But his biggest moment so far has come on a kickoff. Given Freeman’s soccer experience and ability to perform different types of kicks, and the level-headed approach that helped him win the job, IU was comfortable calling his number in a big spot against Louisville.
The Hoosiers struggled through the first half in Indianapolis, and trailed 21-0 at halftime. Before the second quarter ended, head coach Tom Allen decided he’d call a surprise onside kick to start the second half. Freeman had executed it enough times in practice that week to earn Allen and Teegardin’s trust.
Teegardin waited as long as possible to let Freeman in on the plan. In the locker room, he told his kicker they were considering it. But Teegardin didn’t say definitively until the team was about to run back on the field. He didn’t want to leave Freeman time to overthink anything.
This wasn’t Freeman’s first onside kick — he did it a few times at Zionsville. But he said those were expected, not a surprise like this.
And he got the job done. The ball bounced up perfectly for Louis Moore to recover, and the play sparked IU’s comeback effort.
That was the first big pressure situation the Hoosiers have put Freeman in, and he rose to the occasion.
“Just to be able to do that in that moment, that gives him confidence. There’s nothing like doing it in the game, and practice is great, that’s where it all begins. But executing that moment, in that setting, at a critical time was very important,” Allen said. “He’s a guy that’s growing in his confidence each time he takes the field.”
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