E.A. Sports Today

Making a difference

Former Auburn linebacker Eltoro Freeman looking to expand reach of his message to youth to this part of the state

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Eltoro Freeman’s life changed the minute he got the call calling him back into pro football. Call it a light bulb moment.


The former Auburn and NFL linebacker had been out of the game for three years teaching middle school and working with local youth when a head coach from the CFL reached out asking if he’d like to get back in the game.

“He was sitting there watching my tape and told me you have a great reputation at the linebacker position we like,” Freeman said, recalling the conversation.

A short time later he shared the conversation with his brother and that’s when the light bulb went on. Reputation. Everyone has a reputation and they put it on the line every time they do something. That was the motivation to keep Freeman going.

He took the coach up on his offer and played with the Saskatchewan Roughriders until the player whose spot he was chosen to fill returned to the team from the NFL. As an American in a Canadian league, he was the odd man out – but the idea of a reputation on the line always stuck with him.

That’s the message he spreads today traveling the state speaking with high school athletes and other groups inspiring them to do the right thing.

ROTL – Reputation on the Line – is the name of Freeman’s mission. He puts it on his business cards, promotional material and even the weekly awards he doles out to deserving high school students – athletes and non-athletes alike – not only for a job well done on the field but in life as well.

“In 2011 I found my purpose in life,” he said. “It was (to) inspire and motivate. I really believe that’s why I’m here on this earth. That’s my duty for however long I have from here.

“When you discover your purpose and you understand why you’re here on this earth and it’s revealed to you … it feels better than making 100 tackles in the NFL.”

If the drive to maintain his reputation could motivate him to stay grounded and disciplined, he was sure it could be a benefit to others.

The message started humbly enough on the T-shirt – ROTL – he always wore during his workouts. People saw it, wondered about the message and as he explained it to them, it caught on. Soon, he was making the shirts available to anyone who wanted them.

It started with one shirt. Then he started going around the neighborhood getting friends and relatives to hold up the shirt for a picture he’d post on social media. Then he started asking the shirt-holders what Reputation on the Line meant to them.

“It went really, really well,” he said.

He was starting to have an impact. Suddenly people would start recognizing him not as “The Bull” but ROTL. (Fun fact: put the letter O at the front of the abbreviation and an E at the end and backwards it spells Eltoro).

He went full-bore with ROTL in August 2019 and his first audience was his Benjamin Russell Middle School students. Today, he speaks to groups in Lee, Tallapoosa and Talladega counties and is looking to expand in Alabama, eventually taking it throughout the Southeast and beyond.

“It has definitely grown and it is definitely time (to expand),” he said. “There are so many kids being left behind.”

Last year he recognized more than 100 youth and he personally delivers the ROTL plaques that go to weekly honorees. Before he selects the winner he reaches out to the finalists’ coach or extra-curricular director and a random core class teacher, so it’s not just limited to athletic achievement.

“I want to create something for the best student or athletes,” he said, “because I want them to understand that if you are a great athlete that has an expiration date no matter how good you may be, but your character is going to last a lifetime.

“On the flipside, I want the kid to understand that they may not be the most athletic, but they put in the work in the classwork, they put in the work on the football field, and not only make themselves better but make their teammates better. They don’t get any kind of spotlight, but they are preparing themselves to be really great men in life.”His message resonates, he said, because he has been where many of the youth he serves are in their lives and faced some of the same distractions and pressures.

One of his most endearing success stories involves an athlete who was great on the field, but faced challenges outside the locker room. Freeman met with him and as a result of their interaction the athlete got his priorities in order and eventually went on to a school in South Carolina where he is still playing.

“The main thing is I want to motivate every student-athlete to be the best at what they do and be mindful of their character and get them to understand your character is the most important thing,” he said. “When God calls you home your character is something people still talk about and you want to leave a mark that has a positive impact.”

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