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Danny Freund is UND's WR coach and spark from the sidelines

Former UND quarterback Danny Freund is coaching wide receivers for the Fighting Hawks in his seventh season. photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Danny Freund's first job out of college was a good one.

He had a desk at JHT Holdings, Inc., where he worked as a financial analyst for a successful transportation company in his hometown of Kenosha, Wis.

Freund sifted through spreadsheets daily to find ways to save the company money. He knew that he could make a career out of the job.

There was one problem with it, though.

"I just couldn't sit still at a computer every day," he said. "That's just the way I am. Every day at 5 o'clock, I was running out of there."

Freund didn't quite last a year in his desk job before he went into the family business: coaching football.

Now, the 2008 UND graduate is entering his fourth season as wide receivers coach at his alma mater and his seventh year on staff—the longest active tenure of any coach on UND's roster.

Freund is one of just two coaches who were retained on staff by head coach Bubba Schweigert, who replaced the fired Chris Mussman four years ago.

The same unending energy and enthusiasm that made it so hard for him to work a desk job was one of the main reasons why Schweigert wanted to keep Freund on staff after the coaching transition.

"There was a transition time where we didn't let anybody know if they were being retained," Schweigert said. "Danny stayed loyal to the program, which I think is really important, because that's part of the three characteristics we were going to have on our staff. One was that it's a really big deal to be at UND. Being around him for two weeks, I thought he was a really good teammate. He worked hard, even if he didn't know if he was going to have a job.

"And he's full of enthusiasm. I think that's such a great trait. He leads the charge in that area. He is excited each and every day. I don't know if Danny has a bad day and I love being surrounded by positive people like that. He believes we can compete against anyone on our schedule. He believes in guys who have a lot of talent. He believes in guys who have less talent. He just works so hard and getting those guys better every day."

Football background

Freund has been around football his whole life.

He was born in Kalamazoo, Mich., while his father, Bob, was a graduate assistant at Western Michigan University. The other graduate assistant at the time was John Harbaugh, now the coach of the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. The head coach was Jack Harbaugh.

Soon, the Freunds moved to Wisconsin, where his father became a longtime decorated prep coach.

Danny, a three-sport athlete who also excelled in basketball and golf, started at quarterback by his sophomore year in high school.

That year didn't go well for Freund—he spent the season mainly handing off the ball to the team's star running back—but he figured out the problem after the season.

He needed contacts.

"I could barely read the scoreboard," he said. "I thought that was just normal and I was just near-sighted."

After getting contacts, Freund was all-state as a junior and a senior.

UND showed the most interest out of any school—then-defensive coordinator Tim Tibesar wrote numerous letters and called Freund once a week.

Freund also was recruited by Jim Harbaugh. The former San Francisco 49ers coach and current University of Michigan coach had just completed his NFL playing career and was the head coach at San Diego, a nonscholarship FCS program.

Freund spoke on the phone a few times with Harbaugh, and although the coach's enthusiasm was persuasive, Danny said he knew UND was the right fit when he went on his visit.

"We were flying in and it was all white (covered in snow)," Freund said. "You're like, 'Where are we?' They come and pick you up in these vans that they leave running outside. You're like, 'Are you going to turn that off?'

"Then, you meet coach (Dale) Lennon, coach Tibesar, coach Muss (Chris Mussman), and you feel like it's the right fit with the right people."

Freund didn't play during his first three years at UND, but he excelled as the starter for his final two years.

He graduated in December 2008 with a business degree.

Returning to UND

While working at JHT Holdings, Inc., Freund volunteered with the local high school team. But he left the business world completely to take a graduate assistant coaching job for Carthage College in Kenosha.

After a year at Carthage, Mussman brought Freund back to campus as a running backs coach.

He soon transitioned to quarterbacks coach, but the staff was let go in November 2013—a month before he was set to get married.

Unsure about who would get hired—and whether he would be retained—Freund began searching for other jobs. He had an interview to be a graduate assistant at North Carolina State.

But he never stopped working for UND.

During the monthlong search for a new head coach Freund continued recruiting for UND, heavily pursuing a quarterback named Keaton Studsrud.

Studsrud wound up committing to UND, led the program to its first FCS playoff appearance and a Big Sky Conference title last season and is set to become a four-year starter later this month.

Freund, who married Grand Forks native Ann Arnason on Dec. 21, was on his honeymoon in Jamaica when he found out that Schweigert would be the next head coach.

Freund logged onto WiFi and sent Schweigert a message via Facebook to let him know that he was in Jamaica and he'd like to meet when he got back.

Schweigert said there were no guarantees on who would be retained, but he asked Freund to continue working in the meantime.

Impressed by Freund's dedication to the school and his work ethic, Schweigert started asking around for opinions on Freund. They were high, so Schweigert asked Freund to stay.

Leading the charge

During the past few years, it hasn't just been the football staff and players who have noticed Freund's passion—it's almost inescapable.

Last year, when UND beat South Dakota in overtime after a frantic fourth-quarter comeback, Freund was the first person to run off the sidelines and jump into the celebration pile.

When the men's hockey team was overwhelming Quinnipiac in the 2016 national championship game, Freund came up with a new nickname for the CBS Line, led by Drake Caggiula, Brock Boeser and Nick Schmaltz. He called it the "Can't Be Stopped" Line.

And last season, when men's basketball assistant coach Steve Grabowski was watching video of the team's win over Eastern Washington, the coach couldn't help but notice Freund, sitting in the front row, jumping off the bleachers, taking two steps toward the baseline and getting his full body into a fist pump after a dunk.

"There's no replacement for enthusiasm," Schweigert said.

As usual, Freund is excited for the upcoming season and has high hopes for his group of wide receivers.

This season comes with more expectations than the past—UND is picked to win the Big Sky Conference and is ranked preseason No. 5 by Athlon.

Soon, Freund will exchange his annual well-wishes with Ravens coach John Harbaugh and get back on the sidelines—an office location that he can handle.

"You've got to be who you are," Freund said. "Players know. . . everyone knows when you're not being genuine."

Brad Elliott Schlossman

Schlossman is in his 12th year covering college hockey for the Herald. In 2016, he was named the top beat writer in the country by the Associated Press Sports Editors. He has voted in the national college hockey poll since 2007 and has served as a member of the Hobey Baker and Patty Kazmaier Award committees.

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