BC's Freese is cool under pressure

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Boston College football coach Steve Addazio, the bald, barrel-chested guy with the booming voice in charge of rebuilding the Eagles’ program, has a fiery persona. Sometimes when he gets on a roll talking about football, his voice rises and falls like a preacher. He can hold a room and he knows it.

You might think he’s the kind of person whose confidence is never shaken, who never worries, who sleeps the moment his head hits the pillow at night.

Of course, you'd be wrong. Addazio is human, and he cares deeply about what he and his fellow coaches and the Eagles players are trying to do, on and off the field. So when a reporter recently asked about Nate Freese, Addazio’s answer spoke volumes.

“He gives you great confidence,” he said. “He’s a good punter, he’s an extremely good field-goal kicker, kickoff guy, pounding them into the end zone against a great return team [in FSU].”

Addazio praised the Eagles’ special teams, which he said took a step forward against the Seminoles, before the reporter brought it back around to Freese.

“Yeah, he does it all,” Addazio said.

“If he goes down...” the reporter said.

“Well, why do you have to say that?” Addazio said, drawing laughs. “You just want me not to be able to sleep another night, take a few more Tylenol PMs.”

He was joking, but there’s at least a bit of truth to it.

There is no ready replacement for the senior place-kicker, a Lou Groza award watch list member, especially now that he’s added punting duties to his list of responsibilities. So you can see why the thought of losing Freese might keep the coach up at night.

The punting gig was a bit of a surprise to Freese, who hadn’t punted since his senior year of high school before spring camp.

“Coming into camp I wasn’t sure if they were gonna start me there, but as camp went on I was taking most of the reps,” he said.

After Gerald Levano graduated, the Eagles didn’t have a game-tested punter on the roster so the coaches decided to try Freese there. All he’s done is average 42.21 yards per punt (seventh in the ACC) on 5.6 punts per game (fourth in the ACC), solid numbers considering he’s been punting full time only since August.

“I’m not used to punting, but I’m coming along and I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s a little bit different.”

That’s on top of his kicking, which he’s done flawlessly so far. Freese is one of 12 place-kickers in the country with a perfect record to date, going 6-for-6 on field goals and 17-for-17 on PATs. He’s leading the country in touchback percentage at 81.48, with 22 touchbacks on 27 kickoffs in 2013.

Bradley Pinion, the sophomore punter who’s handling kickoffs for No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC), BC’s opponent on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on ABC/ESPN2), ranks just 28th in the country in touchback percentage at 56.25 (18 touchbacks on 32 kickoffs).

The double duty was tough on Freese’s body initially.

“At first, like in the spring, I was a little more tired, but my body got used to it pretty quickly,” Freese said. “I’m in the game more so it goes by a little bit faster.”

Freese, who is fifth among active FBS kickers in career field goal percentage at 83.6, is a big part of BC’s improving special teams. But the kicker also believes the coverage and return teams are getting better by the day -- pointing to Myles Willis’ big returns against FSU as evidence of that.

“I really love the emergence of our special teams because really if you guys look at a team, the microcosm of where a team is gonna be is how good they are on special teams,” Addazio said. “The attention to detail on special teams tells you the detail of that program. And I really thought that we took a major step forward [against FSU].

“The energy and the attitude, I think the kids are starting to understand this whole team concept. You have to be able to play great defense, you have to be able to run the football and you have to be really good on special teams because special teams control field position and it’s a field-position game. We won that field-position battle against that team on special teams.”

If the Eagles are to have a chance at upsetting the third-ranked Tigers this weekend, Freese and the special teams know they will need to continue to improve.

“It’s huge,” Freese said. “Field position is a huge part of winning and if our return game can set up our offense, then we can score a lot of points.”

And if the senior kicker can stay healthy and productive for seven more games, his coach may be able to sleep without pharmaceutical aid.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.