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Johnny Freeman’s fortitude after father’s death aided St. Joe’s Prep’s run to statewide football glory

St. Joe's Prep's Johnny Freeman made 51 receptions for 848 yards and 11 touchdowns this season.

St. Joe's Prep wideout Johnny Freeman (11) catches a pass across the middle against Harrisburg in the PIAA Class 6A final at HersheyPark Stadium.
St. Joe's Prep wideout Johnny Freeman (11) catches a pass across the middle against Harrisburg in the PIAA Class 6A final at HersheyPark Stadium.Read moreKalim A. Bhatti

HERSHEY – Johnny Freeman, St. Joseph’s Prep’s dependable and savvy wide receiver, was noticeably absent from the second half of a 49-12 victory over archrival La Salle on Sept. 28.

Freeman had to hurriedly leave Widener’s Leslie C. Quick Jr. Stadium after learning that his father, John, suffered a stroke on his drive home from work.

“It was very shocking for me,” the 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior said. “You’re never prepared for something like that.”

Sadly, the elder Freeman, an auto mechanic who drove his son home after every practice, died a week and a half later. He was 48.

“I wasn’t expecting for him to die at such an early age,” Johnny Freeman said. “It was devastating for me and my family.”

To avoid dwelling on the loss, the Southwest Philadelphia resident immersed himself in football and his school work.

He also managed to continue his stellar play on the field, helping Prep close with a 13-0 record and earn its fourth state championship in the last six seasons.

Freeman and the Hawks topped District 3’s Harrisburg, 40-20, in Saturday night’s PIAA Class 6A final at HersheyPark Stadium.

Freeman made four catches for 61 yards against the Cougars, including a 13-yard touchdown grab midway through the first quarter to forge a 7-7 tie. He closed the season with 51 receptions for 848 yards and 11 scores.

Last year, Freeman made 22 catches for 309 yards and a score as the Prep went 13-1, won the Catholic League and District 12 6A titles, and advanced to the state final before losing to District 7’s Pine-Richland.

Freeman played youth football for the Overbook Monarchs beginning in third grade and suited up for the Southwest Seminoles before arriving at the Prep at 17th Street and Girard Avenue.

“I played almost every position except center,” the first-team all-Catholic Red Division selection said with a laugh.

His mother, Tionnee, is an officer at the Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center on State Road. She was on hand Saturday, bundled up in the cold weather, to watch her son and the Hawks gain the program’s fourth state title.

“My mom has had a big impact on my life,” Freeman said. “She’s always there for me. She supports me in football, and she always reminds me about how important it is to do well in the classroom.”

Freeman has mostly drawn recruiting interest from Division I-AA programs such as Albany, New Hampshire, Richmond, Robert Morris, and Wagner.

A three-year varsity member for the the Hawks, he visited Albany when the Great Danes beat St. Francis (Pa.), 35-28, in a nonleague contest on Sept. 22.

A Division II possibility for the 18-year-old, who plans to major in management or finance in college, is Gannon.

“I’m sure things will work out in the end,” he said. “With the season over, I’ll have more time to sort out my options.”