Coach Hugh Freeze and the Liberty Flames football team opened spring practice 2019 on Saturday morning. With it raining outside, practice was moved to the Indoor Practice Facility.
With ongoing construction of the Football Operations Center, the team’s locker room and weight room has also been moved to the indoor facility. One end of the field is behind blue curtains that has become a makeshift home for the weight room.
“Day 1, I was jacked, couldn’t sleep last night,” head coach Hugh Freeze said of his first practice at Liberty. “It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to coach a team on the grass. I’m just blessed, feel very fortunate.”
With the coaching staff spending the majority of its first two months on the road recruiting, the past two weeks the team has had a crash course on the new systems that are now being installed. Freeze and his staff spent 15 minutes a day, 4 times a week each of the past two weeks working on installing the offense and defense. After having the morning off from conditioning on Friday, the Flames spent an hour Friday night doing a walk through.
“I think our coaches did an amazing job in the short amount of time we had to get things installed and prepared for today,” Freeze said after practice.
Liberty opened the spring with a team meeting Saturday morning before the first practice during which Coach Freeze unveiled his theme for the spring – Tougher Together.
“That means a lot of things,” Freeze said of the theme, “but we’ve got to be a great team of communication if we’re going to have success. Every team I’ve been on, we were great at communication, and I think that bleeds over into the game when you have to make a defensive check or an offensive check. That communication breeds confidence, if we really want to be tougher together, let’s start with communication.”
While today’s practice was closed to the media, coaches and players were made available following the hour and 45 minute practice. In addition to communication, the pace of play was at the top of everyone’s minds.
“The pace of practice was obviously new to them, how fast-paced it is,” defensive coordinator Scott Symons said. “It’s like a Chinese fire drill how fast it’s going.”
Under Coach Gill and former offensive coordinator Joe Dailey, the Flames played with pace, but, with just one day of practice under their belts, the players felt the tempo was much faster than last year’s.
“With this tempo, it’s no resting, no walking, no jogging,” quarterback Buckshot Calvert said. “Everything is fast tempo, speed that’s going to make defenders pay when they can’t line up.”
Under new strength coach Dominic Studzinski, the players had a crash course over the past several weeks trying to get prepared for this new tempo.
“Conditioning for this type of practice is paramount,” Freeze said. “If you’re not prepared for it, we’re going to be through after an hour (of practice) and just angry because people don’t have the conditioning to play at this tempo for the hour and 45 minutes we’re out here on the field. I was real pleased (today). I only thought we took one lull, and I really expected it to be a lull that we didn’t come back from. But they picked it back up and really finished the way i like to see.”
About midway through the practice, Freeze sensed his players weren’t keeping up at the pace he wanted. So, he stopped everything, pulled the team together, and urged them to pick their pace back up.
“That’s the great thing about having this new coaching staff,” wide receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden said, “They’re not going to let that happen. He stopped everything and said, ‘Hey, we need to pick it up right now or it’s not going to be good.’ I respected that a lot, it gave me chills.”
Most of the 15 spring practices and team meetings the new Liberty coaching staff will be working on the installation of the playbook. This is the first time in a while that Freeze has had to do an install from the ground up as most of his previous stops they were already familiar with his system. He’s still more concerned about getting the team to play at this tempo than installing the full playbook.
“I care more about us playing with a certain tempo than I do how much we get in,” he said.
Symons said he was pleased with the first day of practice, but knew there were also some area for improvement.
“I think there’s definitely some positives for a first day,” Liberty’s new defensive coordinator said. “The biggest thing as a staff that we want to see on the first day more than anything is effort. You expect to have fanatical effort, we’re not there yet. We’ve done really good things overall, some positives, and a lot of area to grow and improve. You know this is going to be a process with these guys, and it’s just about building every single day.”
With the first day of spring ball in the books, this new coaching staff and the players are just beginning to build towards what will hopefully become a bowl team and one of the better G5 teams in the country. Coach Freeze says, in time, he will have everything he needs to be successful in Lynchburg.
“We will in time,” Freeze said of if he had all the tools needed to build the program. “The administration has been really supportive. This indoor (facility) is incredible, it’s a great setup. Today would have been an awful first day if we would have had to go outside. I think the enthusiasm would have really be down some. The administration has been incredible. Obviously, the work they are doing on the Operations Center that’s going to be completed within the next year or so, I think will give us the completion of everything you need to be one of the top Group of 5’s in the nation. I believe that. It will be nice when that gets finished, but, in the meantime, they’ve done a great job with our temporary setup. It’s really nice.”