Kirby Freeman played quarterback for Miami and Baylor. Won a bowl game for the Hurricanes. Beat out an up-and-coming star to start for the Bears.
Then he lost that job and became the answer to a trivia question.
Who did eventual Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III replace to become the Baylor starter?
But Freeman isn't referring to the Canes or the Bears when he says “we” while talking college football. Nowadays, his “we” is the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
The reason: his friend J.W. Walsh.
Freeman has known the Cowboy quarterback so long that he remembers him running around in diapers at two-a-days; Walsh's dad was an assistant football coach working for Freeman's dad.
“Watching him score touchdowns on Saturdays on ESPN,” Freeman said, “it makes me feel really old, which I don't appreciate.”
He laughed, then got serious.
“He's just grown up to be such a good kid.”
A good quarterback, too.
Freeman is part of the reason why. So is his older brother Colby. While Walsh's dad, John, the head coach at Denton Guyer High School in suburban Dallas, was the biggest football influence on him, the Freeman brothers have been a longtime and constant part of the equation.
They were the quarterbacks he grew up wanting to be like.
“Being able to grow up and watch those guys play and perform and lead was a huge help for me,” J.W. said. “Now looking back, I'm really thankful to have had that opportunity.”
Walsh has known the Freemans for as long as he can remember. His dad was working for their dad, Steve, in Brownwood, Texas. Located about three hours southwest of Dallas, the town is just a bit bigger than McAlester or Chickasha, but like many places big and small in Texas, football is king.
Starting in the 1960s, Brownwood High became a Texas power under coach Gordon Wood. His seven state titles and 396 victories make him one of the most revered coaches in Texas, regardless of sport or level.
High school players in Brownwood were idolized by younger boys in town. That made J.W. Walsh one lucky kid because he got to be around the team and the players all the time.
“He was involved in every drill, every practice, everything that we ever did,” Colby Freeman said.
And Colby, who eventually played for Texas A&M before transferring to Abilene Christian, became his favorite.
For Halloween when J.W. was 5, he dressed up as a football player and wore No. 15, Colby's number.
The next year, J.W. wanted to wear the same costume.
“Don't you want to be something different?” his dad asked.
“No,” J.W. told him, “I want to be Colby.”
A few years later when Kirby was the quarterback, J.W. didn't want to be him for Halloween.
“He couldn't wear his babysitter's number out there trick or treatin',” his dad said.
Over the years, the Walsh and Freeman families became close. They went to the lake during the summer. They watched college games on Saturdays. And when John and his wife, Amber, needed someone to watch the kids — J.W. has two younger sisters — they didn't hesitate to ask Kirby.
As much as J.W. loved spending time around Colby and Kirby, his parents were every bit as excited about the arrangement.
“I knew he was looking up to good people,” John Walsh said.
He knew, too, J.W. was learning about playing quarterback. In high school, Colby and Kirby were great leaders. They did things right on and off the field. They had a great demeanor, calm under pressure but vocal with their teammates. They always talked like they were wise beyond their years.