Liberty opened training camp with its first practice on Friday morning, and following the session head coach Hugh Freeze held his first press conference of training camp. Here’s everything Freeze had to say during his media session, beginning with his opening statement:
“Woke up this morning and thought this is my 30th year of starting a season. I guess that means I’m old, but also I have great excitement. I tell people in our program all the time, truthfully, my job really is about helping everyone in our program, from coaches to players to managers, create value for themselves for future opportunities. When those opportunities come you are prepared because of the time we spent together. I think one of the ways you judge what ambitions and passions are in life is – are you excited when you wake up in the morning and get to do it. This is my 30th year of starting a camp, and man, I couldn’t sleep very much because everything is running through my mind of the excitement and anticipation of can we teach and mold and coach well enough to give our kids a chance to win football games but also when in life and can you balance all of that. That’s always racing through my mind, what that looks like.”
“Day one for me was exciting. I thought our kids brought great energy. Obviously, I was a little disappointed in the number of MA’s that some of our receivers made because we’ve got a few veteran guys there. We got to get that cleaned up. I thought we took great care of each other while giving great effort, trying to stay off the ground and off each other. That’s hard to do when you go in team periods. Really was pleased for day one. I will be anxious to see if we are able to clean up the mental mistakes.”
“There’s a how to do things and there’s a what to do. The how’s are going to get messed up sometimes. You are going to play with poor technique, you’re going to get beat in a one on one, but the what to do that comes down to us communicating effectively and being great teachers. That will be the challenge to our coaching staff this afternoon when we watch the film.”
DID YOU LIKE WHAT YOU SAW OUT OF SOME OF THE TRANSFERS IN THIS FIRST PRACTICE?
“This is always the tricky thing with media when you do it right after practice and I haven’t even watched the film yet. I have to go based off just what the coach staff and Dom say. Every one has improvement to make in certain areas whether it be effort or conditioning or strength or change in direction. That would be the case for almost every transfer and probably most every returner, but I haven’t been disappointed with anything to this point. We are optimistic that we get through camp and we will have found some of those that came in that are going to add great value to us.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE COMPETITION IN THE QB ROOM?
“I say anytime you create competition in any position room is beneficial. Kids that are able to handle that and raise the level of their play are the ones that you want to go to battle with. The ones you don’t want to compete to earn something you’re probably not going to win many games. I tell recruits all the time, we’re going to recruit the heck out of you and if it’s a quarterback I’m going to try to out-recruit you the next year. So is everyone else, they may not tell you that. You’re going to carry 4-5 scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. You’ve got to compete every year to earn that spot. I think all of the ones in that room right now have shown signs that they are willing to compete.”
ARE YOU PLEASED WITH THE QBS MENTAL DISPOSITION RIGHT NOW?
“I thought so, but today I would have to say I’m skeptical until I watch the film. I thought we leaned way too heavy on pulling runs from the RPOs. I’ve got to get that cleaned up. Maybe, they’re just anxious to throw, but if the safety is still at 8-10 yards, even though he’s in the run-fit, I want us to lean towards handing that ball off. Today, we really leaned the other way, I believe. Now, again, I need to watch the film, but I thought from my eyes there were 5, 6, 7 times, I understand it’s going to be a 7-man fit, but that 7th guy is at 8 yards, and our running back has got to earn his keep some too. We can’t just lean to pulling it and throwing it every time. He needs to be down in there at 5 and 4 yards for us to do that. That’s the one thing that I thought stuck out from the quarterbacks. I thought we leaned the wrong way for what I want us to be.”
WHAT IS THE VALUE OF THE QB DEVELOPMENT WHEN YOU HAVE AN ESTABLISHED STARTER VERSUS NOW?
“Malik’s year one was this exact way. Now, obviously, year two, he had earned the right to have that spot. I think we are just back to that year one like we had with Malik. Creating depth is invaluable. I really don’t think that this will really totally shake out until we play some games. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, there are alot of QBs that don’t perform their best in practice and yet when the lights come on, oh my gosh, they are a player. I’ve had that. Bo Wallace was that way. Ryan Aplin was that way. Malik was that way to a certain extent. Chad Kelly was good all the time, but you can watch some of these others practice and you think oh my gosh we’re not going to be able to throw the ball at all in a game. Then, the game starts, and this guy competes. It could be some of that. I do think it will go into the season before we kind of really know on that.”
DO YOU FORESEE MULTIPLE GUYS GETTING ACTION AT QB?
“If whoever gets that nod goes out there and is 8 for 8 and making the right decisions and we’re scoring points, he probably won’t lose that spot. If we’re unsuccessful, then certainly we think it is worth trying other people. I honestly think that we have four guys that could go in there and get the job done which is a good feeling.”
IS THERE MORE MOTIVATION TO THE NEW TEAM TO KEEP THE BOWL STREAK ALIVE?
“I think it goes either way. I think you either have a group that is motivated to look at the success we’ve had, which is basically judged on ball games since we’re still Independent, and winning those bowl games when we get that opportunity. We’ve been very good at that. The groups before them have responded the right way to that being the goal. As far as the spoken goal of the outcome of games, we have other things that we focus on too. Now, you can look at that and be motivated to continue that trend with the most difficult schedule we’ve faced since we’ve been here, or it could also work the other way and you could be somewhat satisfied and buy into the lie that we are entitled in some way to be guaranteed some type of outcome without the sweat equity that is needed to get there. That is a challenge that I think we have to face to be mindful of. I think it could go either way. Certainly we hope they respond the right way. We want to continue the trend of being one of the few teams in the nation that can say you’ve won three in a way, now let’s make it four.”
ARE YOU VOCAL WITH THE TEAM ABOUT SETTING THOSE SEASON EXPECTATIONS?
“Absolutely. I was very clear with that yesterday. That is the goal. We don’t get into how many games that means we win or lose, I don’t get into all of that. I just think the long game. The long game is we prepare to win every single game that is in front of us that moment. We do that as well as we can and we will see what the scoreboard says. Alright, it didn’t work out for us today. Well, we have another opportunity. We’ve got 12 of those opportunities. Hopefully enough of them work out by the way we approach each one that give us the blessing of playing in another bowl game. Then, next year we will move on to another goal.”
HOW DO YOU MEASURE THE PROGRESS OF THE OL, ESPECIALLY THIS EARLY?
“The first two practices, when you don’t have pads on, you judge it based upon their execution and assignment. They’re going to get beat in some one on ones because we are asking them not to bang shoulders. So, when they initially engage, the DL is going to win. It’s hard to really judge kind of where they are until we put some pads on and we can actually see how we do in staying balanced between the run and the pass game. There is no group that is working any harder. Coach K has done a really nice job of bringing them together. I think they are the hardest working group on the team right now. I am pleased as to their effort and where they’re at right now.”
ARE THERE ANY POSITION GROUPS YOU ARE HAPPY WITH IN TERMS OF DEPTH?
“Entering four years, we’ve had three years to recruit now. I like our depth at most places. I guess if I had to say, I wish we had one more safety and I’d always take another inside D-Lineman if we could find one. I think, numbers wise we are pretty good. We need to build some depth at receiver, particularly in the slot behind Demario. Tailback, I think we have quality depth there. Quarterback, tight end, we’ve got the right numbers we just need to see how they develop behind Jerome (Jackson). I would take another safety and maybe another slot and another D-Lineman and feel really good, but I feel pretty good. Just hopefully we can stay healthy.”
HAVE THERE BEEN ANY CHANGES IN THE SPORT THAT HAS BEEN A SHOCK TO YOU?
“The biggest shocker is just the current state of where we are. It is what it is. You can talk about it and complain about it, argue about the free agency. The lack of value we are placing on the student athlete now. I don’t mean coaches and administrators. I just think the value of getting an education through sport has lost some of its value. To me, that’s a negative because very few are going to make a living playing this game. That would probably be the biggest gripe that I would have. That probably leads to maybe a lack of gratitude. It’s a blessing to get a scholarship to get your college paid for. That’s a blessing. Now, it’s almost like that’s not enough of a blessing. I think that’s sad in some ways. Again, I’m not against young men doing well with their name, image, and likeness. I don’t have a single problem with that, but I do think it’s a poor reason to choice a place to go to school.”
HOW NEAT IS IT TO SEE THE UPGRADES AT WILLIAMS STADIUM?
“Yeah, I’m thankful. Our administration really has great vision with that. I’m terrible with that. I wouldn’t know how to even start that. They ask me, I’m thankful that they ask me that, but I trust them with that and just stay in my lane. The only thing I ask is is it going to be finished because I look out my window every day and think oh my goodness. I trust those, our administration with that, I don’t really get into it too much. It sure looks beautiful, the new turf going down, the south end zone with all the changes they are making there with the new suites, the cabana area, I think it’s going to be a pretty neat atmosphere to watch a football game in.”
HOW IS MALIK WILLIS, HOW FREQUENTLY DO YOU COMMUNICATE?
“I don’t bother him too much. I might shoot him a text every now and then. We are swamped. He FaceTimed me last night, it was good to hear from him. He knew we were starting camp and wanted to wish us well. He gave me an update. He’s pleased with where he is. He thinks he’s comprehending things well. Typical Malik is very patient and not caught up in how fast he gets time or not, he just wants to get better every day. I think he is approaching it the right way.”
THE QB COACH IS IMPRESSED WITH HIS ABILITY TO RETAIN INFORMATION, DOES THAT SURPRISE YOU?
“No. In our two years with him I felt he was able to process things very well and in most games executed really well with decision making. That doesn’t surprise me.”
DO YOU THINK THAT WAS A GOOD LANDING SPOT?
“Yeah, I do. I honestly felt good about Pittsburgh, Seattle, and Tennessee probably would have been the top three that I felt like were really good places for him. I don’t think there’s pressure to go in. You can sit behind a veteran and learn if that’s what you are called on to do. There’s a package that you can go in and run with Derrick Henry, I’d like to call that play. I have a few ideas for those two to make it tough on some short yardage and red zone stuff. I think it’s a good spot. You’ve got a veteran to learn behind and a really good defense and a good system.”
HOW NEAT IS IT TO KNOW THAT NEXT YEAR YOU HAVE A CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP TO PLAY FOR?
“It’s exciting. We won’t spend a lot of time this year talking about that. We have when the decision was made we talked through that. We talk about it quite a bit in recruiting with the young men and families we are recruiting. With this team, we won’t discuss that a lot. That has nothing to do with this year, but we will turn our attention to it next year and certainly the goals will look a bit different.”
AGG RECENTLY RETIRED, HAVE YOU HAD A CHANCE TO TALK TO HIM?
“Just briefly. He was at practice today. I think he’s going to be around today, I will find time to visit with him today or tonight before he leaves here.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE THIS IS AS GOOD AS ITS BEEN AT RB SINCE YOU’VE BEEN HERE, DAE DAE ADDS A LOT?
“I don’t think there’s any question. Certainly, but I like TJ, I like Shedro. I think Malik (Caper) has some value too. I like all four of those guys. Dae Dae certainly has added some depth to that and competition in that room. I like that room.”
HOW IS RECRUITING GOING, DOES NOT HAVING A 25-MAN LIMIT HELP YOU?
“I think recruiting has gone extremely well. I think the biggest challenge to recruiting right now is judging when to slow down based on what could be, which you have no idea. You could lose 10 kids, you could not lose any. You’ve got to manage the 85 cap. Them doing away with the 25 was only logical. It’s one of the most logical things they’ve done. I don’t know how in the world you could preach to have student healthy, safety, and welfare, and not be able to replenish your roster should the transfer portal hit you. That was only logical. That had to happen to allow us to get to the 85 by each given fall. That had to happen.”