Football Player of the Year: With success, Northeastern's Freshwater remains humble
Defensive lineman is a two-time AP All-State team selection
By Malcolm Shields
Sunday, December 24, 2017
No one would fault Traveon Freshwater if he had a big ego.
In three seasons as a varsity football player at Northeastern High School, the junior defensive end has accomplished a lot.
Freshwater has earned all-conference and all-state honors to go with interest from some of the top Division I football programs in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to name a few.
His individual success on defense and on offense as a running back to go with Northeastern’s run during the season led to Freshwater being named The Daily Advance’s Area Player of the Year.
Freshwater was selected as the Northeastern Coastal Conference Defensive Player of the Year, while being selected to the league’s first teams on offense and defense.
Freshwater earned the league defensive player of the year for the second consecutive fall.
The two-way standout was key in the Eagles (13-1) winning the Northeastern Coastal Conference championship to go with securing the No. 1 overall seed in the East Region for the 2A state playoffs this fall.
The lineman was also selected to the Associated Press North Carolina All-State high school football team as a defensive lineman on Thursday.
Freshwater earned the honor from the AP for the second consecutive season.
Freshwater told The Daily Advance that being named area player of the year meant a lot.
Through it all, Freshwater has a simple mindset.
“I just tell myself, ‘Don’t get too big-headed and keep working,’” he said.
With the amount of success earned on the gridiron, Freshwater noted that what helps him stay humble is to surround himself with the right people, while using negativity as motivation.
“When you are talking about a kid with all of those accolades and what he has going for him, he is a regular person,” Northeastern football coach Antonio Moore said. “He’s a team player. Not a jealous bone in his body. Humble. Just a great kid.”
Entering the 2017 campaign, Freshwater was not set on resting on what he had accomplished the past two seasons.
The lineman, listed at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds, noted that he wanted to improve physically.
The soft-spoken Freshwater added that he has improved as a leader with his words and actions.
“I call him, ‘the silent assassin,’” Moore said. “He don’t say much, but he shows his leadership.”
Games against D.H. Conley, Norview along with a state playoff matchup against Clinton all stood to Freshwater this season.
Against D.H. Conley, Freshwater forced a fumble on Vikings’ quarterback and East Carolina signee Holton Ahlers for the game-winning tackle on fourth down to help the Eagles secure a 55-49 win in overtime on Aug. 17 in the season opener.
Freshwater acknowledged that the team was looking forward to facing Conley in the season-opener.
The Vikings from Greenville, had Ahlers and wide receiver C.J. Johnson named to the AP All-State team.
The Eagles went up to Norfolk, Virginia to face Norview on Aug. 25 in Week 2.
On the first offensive play of the game, Freshwater broke a 75-yard run for a touchdown to give the Eagles the early lead.
Freshwater also had a sack on fourth down when the Pilots were threatening to score in the first quarter to force a turnover on downs.
NHS left the Commonwealth of Virginia with a 40-28 win.
Freshwater was credited with 104 rushing yards to go with 14 tackles with four sacks on defense in the contest.
“That was one of my best games I had this year,” Freshwater said.
Freshwater ended the season with 157 tackles and 27 sacks on defense.
As a running back, he rushed for 2,015 yards with 22 touchdowns on the ground.
“This year he had a full-time role running the ball,” Moore said.
The same mentality of staying humble has helped Freshwater during his recruitment process.
Freshwater has scholarship offers from Virginia Tech, North Carolina State, Duke, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wake Forest, Michigan State, East Carolina, Old Dominion and Tennessee to name a few.
Freshwater acknowledged that it means a lot to have teammate J.R. Walker go through the recruitment process with him.
Walker, also a junior, has several offers from major Division I programs.
During the process, Freshwater met former Virginia Tech standout and National Football League quarterback Michael Vick at a game at Virginia Tech.
Vick, the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2001 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, played in the NFL for 15 seasons with Atlanta, the Philadelphia Eagles, the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“It was a big moment seeing a big-time player,” Freshwater said.
The most impactful moment for Freshwater this year occurred away from the field.
During Northeastern’s fall sports award banquet in late November, Freshwater gave his conference defensive player of the year award to the mother of Jaiden Jones.
Jones, 8, died in early September after a medical incident at a practice with the River City Rampage youth football team.
Freshwater said that he had a dream about giving away his award to Jaiden’s family.
“It was from my heart,” he said.
“That might have been the most thoughtful thing I have ever seen anyone do,” Moore added.
The coach added that Freshwater told him leading up to the awards banquet that he wanted to present the award to Jaiden’s family.
When Freshwater gave Jaiden’s mother the award, she was emotional and gave the lineman a hug.
“I felt like it meant a lot to her,” Freshwater said. “I was speechless.”
Freshwater added that many kids in the youth football program look up to the high school players.
Freshwater himself played youth football with the River City Rampage.
After Jaiden’s death, Northeastern placed red decals on the back of its helmets with the initials “JJ” in honor of Jaiden for the remainder of the 2017 season.
Northeastern’s season ended in the third round of the 2A state playoffs with a 63-52 result to Wallace-Rose Hill. The Bulldogs went on to win the 2A state championship.
Freshwater will use the loss as motivation going forward.
“We will get back next year,” he said.