Rockets' Freeman hopes to add to family's state title collection
State championships are coveted treasures, hard to come by.
One Unity High School family is in position for two titles during the fall-sport season, and it’s not because they have two children on the Rockets’ football team.
Julie Behm’s son, Hiley Freeman, is a starting tight end for Unity. He’ll play in Friday’s 4 p.m. championship game at Memorial Stadium against Aurora Christian.
Behm’s husband, David, coached St. Thomas More to the Class 1A boys’ cross-country state title earlier this month.
“It’s really exciting because my husband got his first state championship. Unity is looking for its first state championship, and Hiley is thrilled to be part of this football team and what is happening,” Julie Behm said. “That would be really awesome for our house.
“We’re still on cloud nine from cross-country.”
The Behm residence has two school signs in its yard, though the school where Julie works — at Unity as a secretary — is the one most prominently displayed.
“The Unity sign is in the front yard,” Julie Behm said, “and the Sabers’ sign is on the side.”
Life on the run is a part of the family’s existence. Behm’s sixth-grade son, Micah, runs cross-country for Unity’s junior high team. She said it wasn’t too difficult coordinating schedules throughout the fall.
“Most of the cross-country meets were on Thursdays and Saturdays, and the football games were on Fridays,” she said. “It wasn’t really an issue.”
A year ago, however, David Behm went straight from the Sabers’ cross-country sectional meet in Decatur to Unity’s opening-game playoff contest against St. Thomas More.
“I showed up wearing green (one of the Sabers’ colors), and Julie was in maroon and white,” David Behm said.
They are used to wearing contrasting colors at ballgames. They have opposite allegiances in baseball.
“We’ll go to games and Julie will wear something Cardinals and I’ll be in my Cubs gear,” David Behm said.
They’ll be together this week. It’s not difficult for David Behm to cheer for the Rockets.
“It’s a funny situation,” he said. “I taught at Unity for a year (2008-09), and these kids that are juniors I had in seventh-grade social studies class.”
He wouldn’t mind not being the only person in the family with a state-championship medallion.
“That would be totally awesome,” David Behm said. “I think the world of Scott Hamilton. His program is super and having Hiley be a part of that is wonderful.”
Rivalries aside, David Behm said there’s enough love to go around.
“They root for my teams, and I root for Unity as well,” he said.
Unity’s linebacking corps features three seniors and sophomore Colton Reed, who displayed his tenacity as a freshman wrestler, winning 25 matches and qualifying for the sectional.
He is surrounded by a veteran group that features tackling leader Mitch Negangard on the inside with Gage Bolt and Kolson McFall on the outside.
Bolt played regularly as a junior, but as the center until suffering a knee injury. Bolt is back at 100 percent for his final year, and Hamilton elected to return him to his more natural position.
“Last year was the first time I played anything but defense,” Bolt said. “I liked playing center, but I feel I’m better as an outside linebacker.”
There was a void at that position with the graduation of All-Area selection Kyle Negangard.
“Gage had some similarities,” Hamilton said. “He’s physical and tough. He has taken off in that position from Day 1. He has done things against the pass we weren’t sure he’d be able to do.”
McFall is not physically imposing at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, but Hamilton said “every ounce of his energy we get each and every week.”
His tackling totals aren’t as high as Mitch Negangard’s, but his impact is as significant.
“The difference in being a second-round team and having the opportunity to play for a state championship are guys that understand their roles,” Hamilton said. “Guys like Kolson allow you to play for a state championship.
“All good teams have the good players, but it’s the role players that separate the good from the elite. When you look back, he may not be the kid initially you remember, but next year we’ll be remembering all the things he did.”
One of McFall’s strengths has been his willingness to study the game.
“I like to watch film,” he said, “so in a game situation I do everything the right way. When you’re in a game and you’ve watched all the film, it’s easier to be reactive to certain things.
“My sophomore year I decided to stick with football and ultimately making a state championship my goal.”
McFall is a two-year varsity starter, but this year has been his best season.
“Last year I was more focused on playing mistake-free football,” McFall said. “This year I’m playing faster and with more confidence.”
Hamilton said his outside linebackers are more of a hybrid player.
“Those two positions are tough,” he said. “They have to play on top of the tight end and stop the run, and this week they have to play in space.”
As a freshman, McFall was in the stands when Unity played in the state finals against Stillman Valley.
Once the outcome had been determined in the Rockets’ 52-22 loss, McFall said it was time for goal-setting.
“I was talking with Micah (Johnson, receiver) and we were saying our senior year would be the first year ever for Unity to win state,” McFall said. “Now it’s right in front of us.”