FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – If you spend any time around the Atlanta Falcons, Devonta Freeman's infectious smile and energy is something you'll take note of instantly.
It's almost a rare sighting to see Freeman not smiling or laughing. He's one of the most beloved players in the Atlanta's locker room and when he suffered a groin injury early on in the 2018 season, Freeman's world was shook.
"It was depressing," Freeman said. "It was a down time for me. Because I couldn't do what I loved to do. I was battling sometimes and some moments where I didn't want to be bothered."
Since signing his five-year contract following the 2016 season, Freeman hasn't been able to get through a season without suffering a significant injury.
Freeman played through a knee injury and a concussion during the 2017 season. After an offseason of rehab, Freeman was ready to hit the ground running when he reported for training camp in 2018.
Then came Atlanta's Week 1 trip to Philadelphia where not only did Freeman hurt his groin, the Falcons lost two other starters in Keanu Neal (ACL) and Deion Jones (foot).
Freeman missed the Falcons' next three games and returned for the Week 5 contest against the Steelers. Following the 41-17 loss to Pittsburgh, Freeman was placed on injured reserve and did not return for the remainder of the season.
The 2018 season tested Freeman in a big way but through the challenges, he was able to grow as a football player and person.
Rather than sulking in negativity, Freeman found a different way to better himself while sidelined.
With the physical limitations he had in place, Freeman evaluated his mental approach. He reached out to professional athletes in the NBA and MLB inquiring about their routines.
The experience – albeit not one he ever wants to repeat – made him better in every way.
"I got stronger from that," Freeman said. "I got closer to God. I learned how to be patient more. I [learned] better people skills. All around the stuff that I couldn't do, I took advantage of the stuff I could do. I have a greater appreciation for life."
When healthy, Freeman is a weapon for the Falcons on offense. The former fourth-round pick has amassed more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground in five seasons.
In addition to what Freeman can do with his physical skill set, he sets the tone for his team in many ways with his work ethic and personality.
"I think during his injury, what can happen sometimes, is the joy can get taken," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "The injury is not only physical, its mental. So where does the hunger to go, to push, to come back? It's a lot like some fire to fuel you, but it's not an easy process. The work that he put in, the closer he got back to playing again, the joy of that came back a little bit again. On to the field, the energy that he brings is pretty contagious. Having him back out was a big deal."
The Falcons are counting on a big year from Freeman and he's ready to embrace the spotlight once again.
"I'm never satisfied," Freeman said.