Between now and national signing day on Feb. 5, The Oregonian is profiling high school football players who are expected to sign with the Ducks.

Name: Royce Freeman

Hometown: Imperial, Calif.

Position: Running back

Twitter: None

Height: 6 feet

Weight: 227

High school: Imperial High School

2013 statistics: 2,824 yards rushing, 41 touchdowns; 116 receiving yards, two touchdowns

Why Duck fans should be excited: It might seem a bit ridiculous now to write about the five-star running back who had invitations to play just about anywhere in the nation – the same 6-foot, 227-pound bruiser who in January juked his way past All-American caliber defenders for three touchdowns – but something always seemed to slow down Royce Freeman.

And for three seasons, no defender tripped him up quite like self-doubt.

At first, his weight spurred it. By the time he suited up as a high school freshman, he hadn’t played football in four years because he exceeded the Pop Warner weight limit.

Then it was geography. Imperial, Calif., is a remote desert outpost a half-hour from the Mexican border and two hours east of San Diego. Its neighboring city is named El Centro but Imperial is far from being at the center of anything -- recruiting hotbeds included. Freeman speaks carefully and politely and preferred his highlight video make the rounds rather than launch a publicity campaign on his behalf. He ran for 4,782 yards his first three seasons … but did any recruiters know?

“I was reading about guys having offers in their junior year and I didn't have one,” Freeman said. “My mom worked at the local community college and joked with me that if I didn't get an offer I'd go with her.”

Before a playoff game as a junior, Freeman received a scholarship offer, his first, from Washington. “I got confidence” from the moment, Freeman said – and about 18 more offers. Schools such as Alabama, Tennessee, Florida State and USC began calling Imperial coach Kerry Legarra and the trip east on Interstate 8 from San Diego suddenly became as well-worn a path as Freeman’s routes to the end zone as a senior, when he scored 41 touchdowns and averaged 11.0 yards per carry. Every recruiting service ranks Freeman, who runs a 4.5 40-yard-dash, among the nation’s top 10 players at his position and he is considered the crown jewel of UO’s 2014 recruiting class.

“What people are going to be extremely excited about is people think he's this big brute back just power, power, power,” Legarra said. “But I think they're going to be really surprised at how fluid he is on his feet, how quick his feet are, his agility.”

But all that attention didn’t end the doubt. During early practices for the U.S. All-American Bowl game in San Antonio in December, the defense dominated and some of the nation’s best offensive players, Freeman included, wondered what the game's national television broadcast would hold.

He went on to score three touchdowns in the national showcase because he pulled from his experience of 14 months earlier, when he ran past uncertainty like it was a defender taking the wrong angle on a tackle.

“I just thought if all else fails run hard,” he said. “It gave me a good confidence boost from seeing the talent out there.”