Whatever Happened To … Eric Frees
This edition of “What Ever Happened To?” features one of the best football players to ever come out of Ephrata High school, Eric Frees.
Frees, a 1988 graduate of Ephrata High School, played baseball and football while a member of the Mountaineers and after graduation from Ephrata, Frees took his talent to Western Maryland College where he continued to set records.
As a member of the Mounts, Frees played shortstop on the baseball team where he was a starter all four years. As a junior he was honorable mention for the All-Star team, and then as a senior was named to the first team All-Star squad.
“I wasn’t then and I’m still not big on personal awards and honors,” said Frees. “It was instilled in me early that sports are team oriented so I have always looked at it from that perspective.”
With the talent Frees had on the baseball diamond as well as the football field, it was easy to rack up personal as well as team awards.
On the gridiron, Frees played on the midget team as a freshman and from that point on was a starter on the varsity squad.
“I played both safety and running back to start my sophomore year because of injuries, but midway through the season, when we got our players back, I played strictly offense,” remembered Frees.
As a member of Mountaineers team his senior year, the Mounts were co-champions with Elizabethtown with identical records of 9-1. That team remains the only Ephrata team to qualify for the District Three playoffs.
“At the time it was the first time since the 1950’s that Ephrata was (section) champs,” offered Frees.
For his efforts, Frees was honored as Player of the Year for the L-L League and was an All-Star as a returner and running back his senior season.
“Our head coach at the time, Merv Witmer, made us realize that no one was bigger than the team and from that time until the present I have nothing but admiration for Merv (Witmer),” said Frees.
When Frees started his college career at Western Maryland (McDaniel College now) he again played both baseball and football.
“I started all fours years on the football team,” said Frees. “But I only played the first three years on the baseball team.”
The Western Maryland squad was at least a .500 team throughout Frees’ career and during his junior season they lost to John Hopkins, a team they had to beat to capture the Centennial Conference Championship.
As a reward for their hard work, the team was selected to play against a group of European All-Stars in Moscow, Russia.
“They were fast and strong, but at that time football wasn’t played a lot in Europe so we beat them, and at the time I was the first American to ever score a touchdown on Russian soil,” remembered Frees.
Frees graduated with some pretty impressive awards.
He was elected to the National Football College Foundation Hall of Fame in 1992 and was the second leading career rusher for NCAA Division III. The same year Frees was seventh leading rusher in all divisions of NCAA football.
He graduated as the all-time leading rusher in all of Maryland and was the Centennial Conference career rushing leader.
After graduation Frees went to Florida for a tryout with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but after he witnessed first hand the “business” of football, he decided to return home and begin his career after football.
“I applied for teaching positions, but couldn’t land one,” said Frees. “So I took what I thought was a temporary position at Ephrata Diamond Spring and that lasted several years before I bought a Tastykake route.”
Frees married his high school sweetheart, Jennifer, and they have been married for 20 years and have a daughter Emma, 18 and a son Evan 16.
Beside working long hours, Frees coached junior high football for Ephrata before becoming the running back coach for the varsity squad.
“When we played in Russia, my teammates and I were out walking around after getting something to eat at about 10 p.m. that night. We noticed a Russian woman following us wherever we went.” Most of us,” said Frees, had some Rubles left and knew we couldn’t take them home so we decided to give them to the woman who, after getting money ran home as fast as she could. The translator told us that if someone saw us give her money that she would have gotten beat up and robbed. That taught us a lesson of how lucky we were to grow up in America and especially a small, close-knit town like Ephrata. It is something I’ll never forget and something I always try to pass on to my players that I coach,” finished Frees.