PORTAL - Portal found its new head football coach Thursday afternoon as Cherard Freeman was introduced as the leader of the Panthers.
"I'm very excited about this opportunity," said Freeman. "Football has been a big part of my life since I was seven years old. I look forward to leading Portal and getting us back on top."
After launching his coaching career in 2001 as the defensive coordinator for Treutlen County, Freeman came to Portal in 2004 to serve as the Panthers' defensive coordinator under Pat Collins.
Freeman left for Claxton during the 2006 and 2007 seasons, but returned to Portal in 2008, serving again as defensive coordinator and taking over the offensive play calling this past season.
"We're very pleased to have coach Freeman on board," said Portal principal Jimmy Parrish. "He is exactly the type of person that we want leading our young men. It doesn't matter whether you're teaching math or football, we want our staff to be great examples of character, which is what we see in coach Freeman."
Before his time on the sidelines began, Freeman was a star on the field.
As a high-schooler, Freeman was an integral part of the Lincoln County football dynasty, where he served as a team captain and won state titles in 1993 and 1995.
Freeman earned a scholarship to Georgia Southern where he played under Paul Johnson. He spent two seasons in the Eagles' defensive backfield before switching to a slotback on offense. Freeman's winning tradition stayed alive and well as he made two appearances in national championship games and was a member of the 1999 GSU squad that won the national title.
Now, having traded in his cleats for a clipboard, Freeman is eager to carry on his success with the Panthers.
"I think that we have a good situation here," said Freeman. "I talked to the kids last week and we already have all of them in the weight room getting ready for spring practice. I like the fact that everyone is eager to get started. I was watching film the other day when one player stopped by. Another one came in, and before I knew it, half the team was in there just studying film."
The Panthers will look to improve over a pair of seasons that have been difficult to say the least.
Portal has amassed just three wins in the past three seasons and hasn't made a trip to the GHSA state playoffs since the 2006 season.
The Panthers have been much closer to success than their record would indicate though. Of the 27 losses over the past three seasons, 15 of them have come by two touchdowns or less, and a handful of potential wins have slipped out of Portal's hands in the final minutes.
"I think this team is close," said Freeman. "We've got a lot of talent. We already have 41 guys signed up for next season and all of them are committed to improving this team."
"We've been in so many games the last few years," said Parrish. "We just need the right person to get us over the hump. I think that coach Freeman is that guy and I think that he can help us start to win right away."
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.