Just eight months ago, Liberty head football coach Hugh Freeze was preparing his football team for the 2019 season. It was his first training camp back in football since he was away from the game for two years.
We all know the story as the game was once again taken away from him but this time due to a health scare. He originally thought he just had severe back spasms, but things took a serious turn when he was diagnosed with a life-threatening staph infection in his back that required surgery.
He was able to return to the practice field just ahead of Liberty’s 2019 season opener against Syracuse where he coached from a hospital bed from the press box. He remained in the press box in week two at Louisiana in a medical chair. Then, he was back on the sidelines from an elevated platform for several weeks before returning to his normal place on the sidelines thereafter.
He still suffers with stiffness in his back at times, but has otherwise returned to normal. His normal includes frequent trips to the golf course, but when the outbreak of COVID-19 began to make its way to the United States, Freeze immediately became cautious.
“Five years ago, I probably would have blown this off and been life as usual and hate it for those that are going through a difficult time,” Freeze said. “Once you have a health scare where they tell you you are really close to going on to glory, which that’s not a bad thing either, Heaven is a much better place than here, but you’re certainly not wishing for that today. I think once you have that experience, you kind of view things differently.”
Now, his trips to the golf course are a little bit different. Freeze now plays in his own golf cart with disinfectant wipes that he brings along. He also practices social distancing while on the golf course, ensuring he doesn’t get close to others.
“When you hear of people that seem very healthy and contract this and it attacks you different ways,” he said. “I’ve heard some say I’ve tested positive and feel great, but others are testing positive and it ends their life. I think the health scare that I went through probably gives me more sensitivity to the fact that this could be very serious for a lot of people.”
As a football coach and leader of over 100 young men, Freeze has also taken it upon himself to ensure his players realize the severity of the virus.
“I’m constantly sending them texts and remind them of the best practices to protect ourselves,” Freeze said of communicating with the team. “Please take this seriously. Do not, do not think this is some type of joke or this attitude of it can’t happen to me. That’s not true, that is a lie, that’s not accurate, it can. Pick the things that you think are really important doing, and can those things be done while practicing proper social distancing and disinfectant and all those things. You can’t just ignore it.”
While Freeze has yet to learn of a family member or friend who has contracted the virus, he knows it’s likely just a matter of time. Liberty men’s basketball Director of Player Development Joe Pierre announced earlier this week on twitter that his grandmother had died as a result of COVID-19, the first such public occurrence that has directly affected a member of the Liberty athletic community.
“I was talking to a national media guy (Sunday) night, and one of his texts says he’s confident we will all be affected either by it directly or indirectly to family members or friends that we love before it’s over,” Freeze stated. “Our prayer is for those that are affected and those that have loved ones that are, that they come out of the other side of it.”