Notre Dame football preview: Marcus Freeman breaks down his energy sources

SOUTH BEND — As Marcus Freeman approaches the 20-month mark as the leader of Notre Dame football, his energy level continues to amaze those in his inner circle and beyond.
“Oh, man, I don’t know how he does (it), but I want to find out,” unofficial team barber Julio Rodriguez said. “I know he works out a lot. I’m sure he gets energy from that. He wakes up early. And he’s always drinking coffee.”
Entering his second fall camp at the helm, Freeman, 37, shared some of his survival secrets during a wide-ranging interview with at his office in the Guglielmino Athletics Complex.
Not surprisingly for a father of six children with wife Joanna, Freeman’s daily dose of Starbucks is a key part of his routine.
“It’s for sure every morning,” Freeman said. “If I could get two, I would love two. If I get one a day, that’s necessary. If I don’t get one, you might want to stay away, you know? Stay away. But one is the minimum, two is pretty good.”
As he spoke, Freeman fidgeted with that morning’s empty cup of Starbucks.
“I’m a Venti Americano Blonde Roast with half-and-half,” Freeman said. “I used to be just a coffee with cream guy, and then (former Notre Dame assistant coach) Mike Elston was the one that introduced me to Americano. And if you’re a coffee drinker, it’s no different. It’s just made with espresso beans. But I like it. It’s pretty safe.”
This day’s cup read “Katherine” in black marker, a clue that Katy Lonergan, Notre Dame’s associate athletic director for strategic and football communications, made a weekday pit stop as she often does. When Freeman needs a little pick-me-up during his marathon workdays, he has multiple backup plans a few steps from his desk.
“I can just go and drink coffee,” he said. “I can drink coffee out of the coffee machine. We’ve got a great Keurig (in the hallway). In that Keurig, I do French Vanilla coffee, and the one in my back office I’ll do cinnamon. But I’m good.”
What do the baristas write on Freeman’s cup when he stops in for his own coffee?
“Marcus,” he said. “And 90 percent of the time I walk in they say, ‘Hey, Coach, have a good day.’ It’s pretty cool, you know? … Katy kind of takes care of me in the mornings, but if this is a weekend, I have no problem walking into Starbucks, and it says ‘Marcus’ right there. Or usually they say, ‘Hey, Coach.’ I’ve lost my first name a lot: ‘Hey, Coach.’ “
His typical response?
“Hey, good to see you guys,” he said. “Have a good day.”
Card games with Marcus Freeman
Another important way Freeman recharges his mind is by playing cards.
“I’ve had a lot of time to hang out with Marcus,” national talk-show host Mike Golic Sr., the former Notre Dame and NFL standout, said recently. “Marcus doesn’t golf. He loves playing cards.”
Crisscrossing the country on a private jet this offseason, Freeman broke up the monotony between speaking engagements by teaching Lonergan and others in the entourage some of his favorite card games, including Spades, Booray and Tonk.
“She’s a really good partner,” Freeman said. “She’s a good Robin to me being Batman.”
Pause. Smile.
“I’m Batman,” he said by way of clarification.
According to Lonergan’s offseason blog on the university website, “Robin” won her share of those battles as well.
“I wasn’t lying,” Lonergan wrote. “When it was just me vs. him, I won. But he taught me those games.”
Mike Golic Jr., the former Notre Dame offensive guard turned sports media personality, can personally attest to Freeman’s competitive smolder around the card table.
“You’ll see him get fired up when things go well on the sidelines, but it’s that same steel glare that he has throughout the game, where ‘All right, no matter what’s going on, we’re going to keep it calm and cool,’ “ Golic Jr. said. “He’s the total opposite of me playing cards at the table because I am riding the emotional rollercoaster on each and every play.
“I’m glad that Marcus is actually the person in charge of the program, and I just sit and watch and talk about it now because I am way too emotional in both settings to be of any use to anybody.”
Freeman’s patience while teaching complex variations of card games also stands out.
“I think this is the hallmark of any good coach,” Golic Jr. said. “He understands his audience and who he’s teaching to. He understands with me and really with my dad, you can’t have anything overly complicated. He keeps it simple around us because he understands that’s how we need to be led.”
No matter the hour or the lighting, whether he’s posing with a recruit and his family or with starstruck alumni during meet-and-greets at fundraisers, Freeman never appears to be caught off-guard or in a sour mood.
In some ways, especially considering this is the Selfie Age of social media, this is a highly potent superpower for the face of Notre Dame football.
His secret?
“Listen, my wife says smile and show your teeth,” Freeman said. “That’s what I do.”
“I take most of them: ‘Let me take it for you,’ “ she said. “Then I’m always going to make sure he looks (good). I usually take about three” of each pose.
On this particular June morning, Freeman was already geared up to deliver winning smile after winning smile to young campers and their family members.
“We have almost 400 kids that you had to take pictures with in the tunnel,” Freeman said. “Tomorrow we’re having 425 middle schoolers you have to take, then you go to alumni clubs. You’ve got to do it. You just get used to it. You kind of go down: ‘1, 2, 3.’ You smile, and it’s ready to go.”
Incredibly, the gaze Freeman offers the camera never seems to be distant and bored. On the contrary, time after time he appears to be absolutely delighted to be having his picture taken at that very moment.
“I’ve come to realize you can separate yourself from reality, from normalcy or you can embrace it,” he said. “You know what? I’ve embraced it. If somebody says, ‘Hey, Coach! Good luck, Coach!’ What’s the worst thing somebody could say? ‘Can I have a picture, Coach?’ You go to Walgreens: ‘Coach, great to see ya.’ It’s fine.”
The trick? Staying present and humble.
“It can all be taken away and it will be taken away,” Freeman said. “I often remind myself that I don’t know how long it will be, but the days as head coach at some point (will end). It’s coming. It’s getting closer, every day, to being over.
“You have to remind yourself, man, of the privilege you have to be the head coach of the University of Notre Dame’s football program. I often do it. If hey, maybe some days you take it for granted, you quickly remind yourself, man.”
His voice softened to a near whisper as he repeated his mantra.
“It’s a privilege, he said. “It’s a privilege.”

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