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The spin cycle

Dwight Freeney sacks quarterback Michael Vick
Dwight Freeney sacks quarterback Michael Vick

The story of Dwight Freeney’s time in a Syracuse uniform is an illustrious one. The Connecticut native tallied 34 sacks in four years at SU, including a single-season program record 17.5 in his senior season of 2001 and 13 in just seven games as a junior in 2000. Now, he is the 10th

The signature moment of Freeney’s college career was in 2000 against Virginia Tech. The Hokies almost won the national title the year prior, and had Michael Vick at quarterback, the most electrifying player in college football at the time, according to CBS Sports’ Damon Amendolara, who called that game for WAER.

Amendolara recalls the anticipation leading up to that game, both because of Vick’s presence and the fact that SU and VT were heated rivals in the Big East at the time. What ensued was a battle between two players perhaps unlike anything ever seen before.

A quarterback and a pass rusher went toe-to-toe. Vick vs. Freeney. The Syracuse defender racked up two sacks early, which is when Amendolara says he and his broadcast partner Andrew Catalon began to realize something special was happening.

Freeney ended that game with 4.5 sacks of Vick, a feat Amendolara describes as among the most impressive he’s ever seen from a defender at the collegiate level. However, Virginia Tech actually won that game, 22-14. Despite the final score, Freeney’s legacy in the 315 was set after that performance.

The edge rusher broke the mold of what a traditional defensive end looked like. Freeney was 6-foot-1 250 pounds at SU, in a time when the average player at his position, as Freeney describes, was closer to 6-foot-5 280 pounds.

His game wasn’t built around power, like most of his contemporaries, instead he relied on speed off the edge to get around tackles and the leverage he had by nature of being shorter than the linemen he went against.

Then, there was the signature spin move. Freeney learned it playing basketball. He would use a drop step inside the lane trying to get to the basket in high school. He was often called for traveling when he tried it, but, as the man himself put it, “there’s no traveling in football.”

Freeney broke out the move in practice, and it worked. He stuck with it into games and would set up tackles for it by going to their outside consistently, then spinning back to the inside when the game dictated that he needed to get to the quarterback on that play.

Freeney was a special player who revolutionized his position, and got rewarded for it by being selected to the College Football Hall of Fame, an honor Amendolara says Freeney deserves because, “on his best day, he was unblockable,” against Michael Vick on an October Saturday in the Dome.