With Liberty’s signing of 14 in the early signing period in Coach Freeze’s first class, the Flames will add considerable depth to its roster. Coach Freeze added 5 defensive backs, 4 defensive linemen, 3 wide receivers, a quarterback, and a specialist.
The Flames are still early in the FBS transition, having moved from 63 scholarships to 85 in just 18 months. It will take a couple of recruiting classes to get to a roster full of FBS players. Coach Gill and his staff brought in 30 guys as part of the 2018 signing class. While most of those guys are FBS caliber players, obviously the coaching staff had to take some chances on a few. As is the case with most recruiting classes, some of them will not work out, evidenced by Ricky Lester transferring to FCS Northern Colorado this week. Each recruiting class the Flames get, will continue to add depth and increase competition as Coach Freeze builds out his roster.
“Competition is what makes an FBS team really be able to compete on Saturdays,” Freeze said. “The more we add these guys to it, the more competition builds. There’s no greater motivator than a guy behind you pushing you. If you don’t have that, the tendency is, for most of us, for my ceiling to remain where it is. Until you get stressed to go beyond that ceiling, you kinda stay status quo.”
As we head toward the February signing date, the Flames’ coaching staff will move their priority to the offensive and defensive line.
“We’re in really good shape with every position,” said Freeze. “Our focus in the next recruiting cycle will be O-line, D-line. I feel very comfortable about the other positions.”
Despite the 4 defensive linemen coming in as part of this class, Freeze and his staff are still focusing on defensive linemen. The Flames will have to replace several key pieces of that line from a 2018 unit that saw an incredible uptick in production. Gone are Tolen Avery and Juwan Wells, who combined for 65 career starts and 84 career games played. Also gone is Mitchell Hurtado who added depth on the interior of the line.
Liberty will have Jessie Lemonier and Austin Lewis to anchor the two defensive end spots with Jayod Sanders able to provide some experience and depth there as well. On the interior, three rising seniors will carry the bulk of the workload in Devin Pearson, Vincent Elefante, and Ralfs Rusins. Behind them are two true freshmen that redshirted in 2018 in Logan Beadles and Emmanuel Cater, as well as Elisha Mitchell who missed all of the 2018 campaign due to an injury he suffered prior to the season.
On the offensive line, Freeze and the staff were unable to secure any commitments in the early signing period, but the Flames do return several linemen with starting experience. Thomas Sargeant has started 23 consecutive games at center. Dontae Duff has started 34 consecutive games, mostly at right guard. Tristan Schultz and Sam Isaacson have both seen significant playing time and have some starting experience at tackle. Ethan Crawford also has plenty of experience and has seen time at numerous spots on the line throughout his career. Damian Bounds and Cooper McCaw have a little bit of experience as well.
The Flames also have 5 true freshmen who redshirted this past season in Jacob Bodden, Henry Chibueze, Jonathan Graham, John Kourtis, and Brendan Schlittler.
Still, Freeze and his staff will have to replace the loss of Julio Lozano, who had made 24 consecutive starts at left tackle, Ben Fiordelise who started 8 games at left guard in 2018, and reserve James Passmore.
“(In) January, (our) focus (will be) on some bigger boys,” Freeze said at his press conference Wednesday. “That’s one good thing is our focus can be very targeted, very limited, as to who we’re pursuing in the January period leading up to the February signing date because of how well we fared today. D-line and O-line will be our focus.”
“So, if you’re a D-lineman or O-lineman, and you haven’t signed, and you want to visit one of the greatest universities in America that has your best interest at heart, and will give you a chance to compete in football at the highest level – we’re your place and we look forward to meeting you.”