This one is difficult to explain even for John Freeman himself.
“I’m not really sure how or why this Australian football thing happened either,” Freeman said. “It’s as random as it gets.”
Friday night at 10 p.m. eastern time half a world away in Australia, Freeman, a Charlottesville native and a former Western Albemarle standout in soccer, football and pole vault who graduated in 2005, will line up for the United States Revolution, the national Australian Rules Football team, and play against Papau New Guinea’s own national team, the defending world champions.
“Here I am, a full on balding adult with a day job, and I’ll be wearing a USA jersey, singing the national anthem with my teammates in front of a huge crowd and playing a game against the defending world champions,” Freeman said. “Ten days later, I’m back at work and have a conference call.”
Freeman was an all-district defensive back for the Warriors in football and an all-district midfielder for the soccer team.
Freeman got plugged into Australian Football, a sport with roots in early rugby played on an oval field where the main way to score is kicking the ball between two tall goalposts, when he showed up at a park in his current home city of Nashville to play pickup soccer. The local club, the Nashville Kangaroos, were at the park practicing and Freeman had heard a lot about the sport from co-workers because the company he works for was founded by Australians. Freeman walked over to the practice and he’s been all-in since, joining the club and emerging as a standout for the Kangaroos.
“Going from beginner to World Cup wouldn’t be possible without my club teammates in Nashville,” Freeman said. “They’ve invested so much time and patience in teaching me the game. They’re more responsible for this than anyone.”
Freeman was scouted for the national team when one his Nashville teammates tipped off the national team coaches, who scout the club circuit, to Freeman. He made it through tryouts, in part with the help of Western track and cross country coach Cass Girvin on the fitness end of the spectrum.
The United States squad opened the International Cup tournament in Melbourne with wins over Canada and then South Africa. They now face Papau New Guinea in a key tilt.
‘We’re playing in a rural town in Australia that has an incredible facility with their local pro club,” Freeman said. “They hosted us for dinner two nights ago and had already painted USA on the field and were showing us all of the posters that have been put out around the town. They’re expecting a really big crowd.”
But while he’s playing the sport in its home country as part of an “unforgettable” journey, it all comes back to getting started with the Kangaroos.
“I told (my club teammates) if I kicked the game winning goal in a game that I’d get their names tattooed somewhere on my body,” Freeman said. “So they’ve clearly been invested in watching the fourth quarter of these games and have been sending me font requests.”
Ideally, Freeman would kick that goal to help lift the U.S. to a World Cup title and his teammates will let him avoid Comic Sans or Wing Dings in the aftermath.
Freeman and the United States team’s match is available to stream on YouTube tonight. Here’s the link: