For decades Liberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. and his father Jerry Falwell, Sr. have been very vocal about the vision for Liberty University – to be for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is to Catholics and BYU is to Mormons.
As Liberty, in its first full season as an FBS member, prepares to face BYU on the gridiron for the first time in school history, it is further evidence as to how much the school founded in 1971 in Lynchburg, Virginia has grown in its brief history.
“I remember I was sitting in church when I was eight years old when my dad announced he was going to start a college right there on the church campus,” Jerry Falwell, Jr. told ASOR in a phone interview this week. “It wasn’t long before he was saying we were going to play Alabama, USC, Notre Dame – we’re going to beat them all. Later on, he would talk about Brigham Young and Notre Dame and being for Evangelicals what those schools are for Mormons and Catholics.”
The fact that Liberty is even on the same playing field as BYU or, one day, Notre Dame is quite fascinating. BYU was founded in 1875, Notre Dame 1842. Those schools have about 100 years on Liberty.
“I don’t think people really believed (the vision) because Liberty back then looked more like Bob Jones, Pensacola, Tennessee Temple,” Falwell, Jr. said. “The last 13, 14 years we’ve moved right towards what the original goal was. I think it’s exciting and a great opportunity. It might be a while before we’re beating the Auburns of the world, but we’re on the right path.”
If you’ve stepped foot on campus in recent years you’ve seen the campus transformation take place. Since Falwell, Sr. died in May 2007 and his son took the reigns, the University has seen remarkable strides. The campus looks nothing like it did in 2007. Other than physical buildings, the growth may be most evident in athletics.
Williams Stadium has gone through multiple renovations to bring capacity from 12,000 to its current 19,200. There’s an Indoor Football Practice Facility as well as new facilities for baseball, softball swimming & diving, track & field. The list goes on and on.
“I think he would be surprised Liberty has come as far as it has since he passed,” the younger Falwell said of his dad. “I think he expected it to take longer, but he knew it would happen at some point. It happened a lot faster than any of us thought it would.”
In America, football is king, and Liberty is attempting to make its mark. Ian McCaw was hired as Athletic Director three years ago this month to help shepherd the athletic department to the FBS, the highest level of college football. Three months after he was hired, Liberty was announcing that the NCAA had approved the school’s waiver request to move to FBS. McCaw and the Flames then hired Hugh Freeze, with SEC experience, as the new head coach last December.
“I actually got a chance to be around Dr. Falwell before he passed away,” Liberty running back Frankie Hickson said. “You think, ‘yeah, it will happen.’ The vision will happen, but to be around to see it, and for it to come full circle, it’s amazing. I know that will be a driving force for us this weekend.”
The 6-3 Flames are big underdogs against the 4-4 BYU Cougars this weekend, but this is just one game on Liberty’s continued ascension to playing with the big boys. BYU this week, Notre Dame certainly won’t be far behind.
“Nobody should be surprised about Liberty because we announced what the plan was to the world almost 50 years ago,” said President Falwell. “It’s kind of interesting to watch some of the ones that say, ‘Oh, they’re straying from their mission.’ No, we told you what our mission was, you just didn’t believe it.”