How Marcus Freeman's Chicago Bears stint prepared him for Notre Dame recruiting
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Marcus Freeman: Chicago Bears stint prepared me for Notre Dame recruiting

Marcus Freeman only spent a few months with the Chicago Bears.

He was drafted by the Bears in the fifth round of the 2009 NFL Draft. He was waived less than five months later on Sept. 4. By May of the following year, he medically retired because of an enlarged heart condition.

Freeman's professional football career spanned just over one calendar year. He never played in a regular season game. But in those first five months with the Bears, Freeman matured tremendously. He hung onto the things he learned during that time, and, 12 years later, the newly named Notre Dame head coach still draws on his experiences in the Windy City.

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"The minute I got to Chicago and I was by myself, my family was back home, I said, 'Oh, this is a little bit uncomfortable,'" Freeman said. "That helped me grow. It helped me get to this point where, hey, you can handle being outside your comfort zone."

Freeman was born and raised in Ohio. He played college football at Ohio State. All he had ever known was the Buckeye state until he heard his name called on draft day in 2009. His entire world changed when he shipped up to Chicago, if only for less than half a year.

Now Freeman is in a position in which he's persuading teenagers to uproot their lives and move to South Bend, Ind., to play college football for anywhere from three to five years. Most of them aren't coming via a short one-hour highway ride like Freeman had from Dayton to Columbus, either.

Notre Dame has as national a recruiting footprint as any program in the country. Freeman went far and wide on the recruiting trail last week in preparation for the early signing period opening Wednesday. In essence, he's asking players to do exactly what he did when he suited up for the Bears — relocate miles and miles away from home — at an even younger age.

Freeman knows firsthand that isn't easy. But he has a welcoming message to ease any nerves recruits might have about going from places like California and Texas to the midwest.

"I use this in recruiting because I tell these guys, the unique part about Notre Dame is South Bend isn't home to many of our players, maybe one or two," Freeman said. "So everybody coming to South Bend is coming from outside.

"They learn how to lean on each other and get through those uncomfortable moments. That's why, to me, the young people that come here know how to get through the homesickness and those uncomfortable times that I went through all of a sudden when I was in Chicago."

Notre Dame Fighting Irish football head coachMarcus Freeman
Freeman learned something while with the Chicago Bears that has helped him in recruiting. (Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports)

Senior defensive end Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is walking proof of that. He was asked this week if he's going home to Hawaii during Notre Dame's short break from practice over Christmas. Tagovailoa-Amosa said no, he's not. It's the first Christmas without his father, Tuli, who unexpectedly died on Aug. 8.

But Tagovailoa-Amosa still said he won't make it back to the islands with a smile on his face. He wasn't fazed. He'll see his family in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1. Before then, he'll spend time with his second family — his Notre Dame family. Like Freeman, Tagovailoa-Amosa has learned how to ingratiate himself in a formerly foreign environment.

He stepped out of his comfort zone and into a new one.

"The biggest thing for me is the amount of gratitude I have for this place," Tagovailoa-Amosa said. "It will stay with me forever. There are things the Notre Dame community, the fan base — you guys know the things I've been through this year — this place is so special."

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