From farm to Fame

By Sean Ostruszka

Lois Free watches the game in amazement.

There on the television stands her son, NIU’s Doug Free. Dressed in cardinal and black, he’s playing on national TV against the fourth-ranked team in the nation. The announcers talk about how, at 6-foot-7 and 302 pounds, he’s going to be a top prospect for the NFL.

From the family farm outside Manitowoc, Wis., she watches her son beat up on men dressed in maize and blue. Every second of it just adds to her awe.

It’s not the accolades or the hype that shock her though. No, those are nice, but they don’t come close to what’s already been given to Free. You see, her son, her baby, shouldn’t even be here.


Heading to the hospital, Lois didn’t know what to expect. After her first child, doctors told her and her husband David they would never have children again due to blood poisoning during the pregnancy.

Yet here they were, zipping down the road ready to have another. But even when they reached the hospital they weren’t in the clear yet.

Lois was told in advance there was a problem with her baby. The placenta wasn’t attached properly and, despite the doctor’s best efforts, her baby probably wouldn’t make it.

The two of them hoped for the best, but expected the worst.

“I honestly didn’t expect to have a baby to bring home,” said Mrs. Free. “But I didn’t have any fear for some reason. I kept thinking ‘how come I don’t feel like something is wrong?’”

Her instincts were right. Nothing was wrong, and Free was born with no complications. He was as normal as normal comes.


“The Freak.” That’s what called him.

‘A frightening blend of strength and speed,’ the Web site had him as the No. 18 prospect in the nation earlier this summer.

Reclining on his sofa Tuesday, the junior smirked and shook his head.

“I really don’t like the name much,” said Free. “But it somewhat fits me.”

Free never wanted to be an overweight offensive lineman. In high school he was an All-State defensive lineman, so the thought of packing on pounds didn’t sit too well with him. Especially for a guy who didn’t even want to play football in college.

He did it though – he put on the weight. Sixty-pounds to be exact. But he managed to do something unique. He put on the size without losing his athleticism. It’s something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by his coaches.

“He’s really gifted,” said offensive line coach Sam Pittman. “I’ve coached guys who start in the NFL right now, and Doug ranks right up there with them.”

But the NFL can wait – for now. After the season, Free will have to sit down with coaches and family to make a decision on whether or not he should make the jump or wait one more year.

His mom knows the talk is coming but its still quite a shock.

Twenty one years ago, Lois just hoped her son would get a chance at life. And now she’s getting ready to help her son see if he wants to spend the rest of it playing football.

“How did it all happen?” Lois said. “I don’t know.”