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Starting for 4 years has helped KMS's Freetly develop a knack for being around the ball

While others on the team are grabbing headlines, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg senior tight end/linebacker Taylor Freetly goes about his business with little fanfare.

But when the game is over, his performance usually screams for attention.

"He has a lot of tools and is very athletic," said KMS head coach James Cortez. "He's a big target, but he runs and plays like a wide receiver. He's a big-time player. But he's kind of quiet and unassuming."

Freetly had seven catches for 146 yards and touchdowns of 38, 13 and 18 yards in the Fighting Saints' 42-35 upset over top-seeded Minneota in the Section 5A championship last Friday. Two of his receptions came on fourth down and three others came on third down to keep drives alive.

"He's got a big reach and good hands," said Cortez. "He has a knack for getting open like a wide receiver. We're primarily a running team, but he's got a lot of catches because we go to him when we need a big play. And he alsmost always comes through for us."

KMS takes a 9-2 record into its second straight Class A state tournament, facing Fosston (9-2) today at 8 p.m. at the Fargodome.

For the season, the 6-5½, 200-pound Freetly has 39 receptions for 797 yards and 13 touchdowns. The next best receiving total on the team is 18.

"We don't pass a whole lot, but we have a play in which I find an open space and settle down in the zone," said Freetly. "If we have a deeper pass play, then I have to make cuts to get open. It's all worked out well so far."

As much as he stands out on offense, Freetly is equally as valuable on defense. Utilizing his speed and size, he roams all over the field to make tackles. He leads the team with 114 tackles this season, including 14 for losses, and also has two fumble recoveries.

"It seems like he is always around the ball," Cortez pointed out. "He's got such good instincts for the ball. He never seems to get fully blocked."

To shore up the special teams for the playoffs, Cortez inserted Freetly on kickoff coverage.

"Of the past 10 kickoffs, (Freetly) made the tackle seven times." Cortez said. "He's very smart on and off the field. And he's a big film-study guy. He's a 3.9 (grade-point-average) student and it really shows in the way he plays."

Freetly, who also serves as the team's punter and averages 30.1 yards, says watching a lot of film helps him avoid blockers and to use the right angles to get to the ball carrier.

"I think you get a feel for things after having played for so many years," he explained. "It's in-stincts and just understanding the game."

Cortez knew he had a special player when Freetly was only a freshman and was starting at outside linebacker.

"I remember a game when he was a freshman and he missed an assignment that resulted in a touchdown and cost us the game," Cortez said. "I talked to him after the game and the way he listened and his reactions told me that he would probably never do that again. That's pretty good for a freshman. We put a lot of responsibility on such a young guy's shoulders and he handled it very well."

Freetly, too, recalls that day.

"I remember it very well," he laughed. "It was against Browerville and I was supposed to be man-to-man on the tight end. I blew the assignment."

Now Freetly is one of the leaders of the team. He's often seen after practice with quarterback Kevin Steinhaus catching passes.

"I try to get the team fired up and try to help some of the younger players," said Freetly. "They'll ask me questions in practice just like I probably did when I was younger."

Freetly enjoys making a big block as much as a big catch or a big tackle.

"I just enjoy playing," said Freetly, who hopes to play college football somewhere. "I like everything about the game."

Freetly's father, Tom, owns Freetly Electric in Kerkhoven.

Maybe that explains why Taylor gets such a charge out of playing.