Antonio Freeman became one of the first true NFL stars of the Frank Beamer era.
Antonio Freeman wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school, but he was a vital signee for the Hokies. Virginia Tech’s 1990 recruiting class was critical to saving Frank Beamer’s job and turning the program around.
Freeman joined future Tech greats Jim Pyne, Tyrone Drakeford, and Maurice DeShazo as building blocks for the program’s mid-nineties success.
Antonio was rated as the No. 64 player in the Mid-Atlantic by Super Prep following his career at Baltimore Polytechnic in Baltimore, Md. He chose the Hokies over scholarship offers from Rutgers and James Madison.
He showed promise as a freshman, catching 19 passes for 274 yards and two touchdowns. His production increased in 1992 during Tech’s woeful 2-8-1 campaign. He pulled in 32 catches for 703 yards and 6 scores.
Freeman posted similar numbers with nine touchdowns in 1993 as Tech made it’s first bowl game of the Beamer era with a berth in the Independence Bowl. The 1994 campaign saw more catches for fewer yards and touchdowns, though he was still a vital target for the team’s run to the Gator Bowl.
For his Tech career, Freeman caught 121 passes for 2,207 yards and 22 touchdowns as a three-year starter. He also had plenty of success on special teams during his junior and senior seasons. He returned 64 punts for 654 yards (10.2 YPR) with a touchdown.
The punt return numbers were good enough to lead both the Big East Conference and the nation in returns and total return yards in 1994.
These are fairly modest receiving numbers by today’s standards, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
For one thing, passing all over the field wasn’t a thing most programs did back then. Steve Spurrier was starting to turn Florida into a national power with his ‘Fun ‘n Gun’ offense but that was unusual.
Running was king in the early nineties, especially in Blacksburg. Frank Beamer’s style of strong special teams, good defense, and ball-control offense was just beginning to blossom into a viable strategy as he assembled the pieces to make things click.
The 1995 NFL Draft saw Freeman land with the Green Bay Packers. The organization selected him in the third round with the 90th overall pick.
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During his rookie season, Freeman primarily served as a kick returner and took one back for a touchdown during the 1995 NFL playoffs. After that season, he quickly emerged as one of Brett Favre’s favorite targets.
In 1996, he caught 56 passes for 933 yards for nine touchdowns. The next three seasons Freeman went over 1,000 yards with his career-best season coming in 1998. That year, he finished with career-bests in catches (84), yards (1,424), and touchdowns (14). That performance was good enough to garner the only Pro Bowl selection of Freeman’s career.
Freeman played eight seasons in Green Bay and one with the Philadelphia Eagles. He finished his time in the NFL with 7,251 yards on 477 catches. He tallied 61 touchdowns, and those are just his regular season numbers.
In the playoffs, he pulled in another 53 catches for 823 yards and 10 scores.
The two defining plays of his professional career came on the biggest stages. The first came in a Monday night divisional rivalry against the Minnesota Vikings. Freeman caught a bizarre pass laying on the ground, tipped it to himself and managed to score.
Note: The NFL does not allow embedding of their videos, because of course they don’t.
The other major moment happened when the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI over the New England Patriots. Freeman hauled in an 81-yard touchdown pass which was then a Super Bowl record.
Without question, Freeman’s career in college and the NFL puts him in the upper echelon of Virginia Tech football players. He currently ranks eighth in career passes caught by a Hokie, second in touchdowns, and fifth in yards.
He’s a member of the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame, and continues to give back to the Tech football program with appearances like the one below.