On Wednesday, Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media as his team has opened spring practice. The Flames hit the field last week for three practices and had practice number four on Monday and number five on Wednesday morning. The Flames are scheduled to have 15 practices during the month of March as Liberty begins preparation in earnest for the 2021 football season. Here’s everything Freeze said during his media session, beginning with his opening statement.
“Normal spring and it’s going really well, I’m really pleased with five practices in. I’m excited, think that there’s reason to be optimistic. We’re getting a lot of reps with a lot of young kids. Really pleased, pleased with our staff, pleased with the energy and kind of the leadership I see on both sides of the ball. Really pleased.”
TANNER BURNS HAS ADDED A RESPONSIBILITY OF OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS COACH, WHAT PROMPTED THAT MOVE?
“Truthfully, he’s always had a little bit of responsibility with that, but Corey (Batoon) last year kind of wanted all three of the safeties/outside backer that nickel/Sam and the two roof players. He kind of wanted them all in the same room together. Jack (Curtis) is a little different. Jack really thinks it’s important, and Scott (Symons) agreed, that if that outside position, that nickel/Sam backer/DB/hybrid/whatever we’re calling it, if he had separate meeting time and more individual time just with a single coach and Tanner’s very qualified to do that. That’s the purpose behind it.”
THAT’S THE POSITION WITH QUINTON REESE AND JUAWAN TREADWELL?
“Exactly it and Skyler (Thomas) is playing there right now as well. Really pleased with all three of those to this point.”
YOU HAVE SEVERAL NEWCOMERS IN THE DEFENSIVE BACKFIELD, WHAT HAVE YOU SEEN OUT OF THOSE GUYS?
“We’re five days in, so I don’t want…I’m excited. I think we’ve improved ourselves. We run better. I think one of the hardest people to guard that I’ve ever coached is (Demario) Douglas. I tell you, Skyler and some of those guys are running with him, which is impressive. (Jaylon) Jimmerson and Rocker (Rahimi) and (Duron) Lowe, I tell you even Daijahn Anthony has been impressive. I think we definitely added depth and certainly are optimistic that we have a chance to be better.”
IT WAS ABOUT THIS TIME LAST YEAR COVID CUT OFF SPRING PRACTICE, AS YOU LOOK BACK ON WHAT THIS PAST YEAR HAS BEEN LIKE, WHAT CAN YOU TAKE AWAY?
“I think it’s made us stronger here. I think it’s made us, hopefully, more aware of the gratefulness we should live with for the things that we do have, the resources that we do have to even have a bubble. The support we had to continue doing what we love to do. Now, once we decided to do what we love to do, it certainly came with its set of challenges. I thought that our team and staff and administration and academics and everybody I mentioned, just had this mentality of don’t blink. We can’t worry and get caught up into what you can’t control. I think that’s going to pay dividends down the road in life for everyone who has experienced it and has come out, hopefully, the other side of it without life altering circumstances.”
“My heart certainly goes out to those that had the situations that caused great grief and pain, but for our family here we didn’t experience a lot of that. Now, I hope we’re toward the end of it. I think there was a lot of hurt. I was talking to recruits this morning on FaceTime during practice. I feel bad for the 2020 seniors. I don’t think there’s anyway to quantify the number of kids that were affected by this, scholarship-wise, opportunity wise, at the many different level of schools. I hate that. I hope that maybe the NCAA will allow even those 2020 seniors to come to summer camps this summer should we be allowed to do this, just so that they have somewhat of an opportunity to be a late addition.”
“It seems like, I get this feeling, that things are better. Whether it’s herd immunity or whether it’s the vaccine, I don’t know. We’ve gone three straight weeks here without a positive in our testing. It seems like it’s better.”
“To answer your question, the lessons we would have learned is adversity comes, we worry about what we can control, and we stay as positive as we can and continue to work as hard as you can with the 24 hours you are given, and if you are given another 24 hours, let’s be thankful and grateful and go back to work on that one too.”
HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO GET OUT TO ANY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL GAMES?
“Unfortunately, we can’t go anywhere. We’re still under the NCAA dead period. We can’t go anywhere to recruit nor can they come on campus. Everything is just by Zoom and watching film thus far. We will probably let 3 or 4 weeks get under the belt in these high school seasons and then start to evaluate a lot of tape because we do have a lot of spots left if we chose to use them. We don’t have to because of our returners. We will start looking at those. Hopefully they will allow us to at least let us have access to at least let some kids come to camps this summer at some point.”
FOOTBALL AND BASKETBALL HAS HAD VERY GOOD RESULTS WITH COVID OVER THE PAST YEAR, WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE REASON FOR THAT?
“I think that starts with Ian and his direction and his vision. Then, there’s a lot of people that carried out that vision. Of course we are blessed to have the physical structures here to have a bubble. Whether it’s the Lahaye conference room for academics, or the Indoor for academics and training table for food where as long as people abide by the bubble principles, they truthfully don’t have to be around a lot of people outside of this bubble. I think it just starts with the vision, and we were the test run for it. We had, what I would consider a successful run with it. I think probably that Thanksgiving weekend got us a little bit before the Coastal game. Luckily we were able to reschedule that game in a bowl game which probably was better, more people got to see it. I would have liked to be a part of GameDay, but still glad we got that game in.”
“I think it’s similar just because of the set up we have here. I think most of our kids were semi-responsible with it. I would venture to guess Coach McKay’s were probably even more responsible. I know the culture he has and he creates and leads is pretty special. We will certainly be hopeful and prayerful that they get to Indianapolis with zero issues and are able to finish this season on a high note.”
HOW IS EVERYONE LOOKING HEALTH-WISE?
“We had some that had surgery that we are holding out a little bit. Brendan (Schlittler) is getting very few reps. He probably could but we’re not getting him many. Khaleb Coleman is in a blue jersey, just making sure that shoulder is 100% before he is in contact of any type. We did, unfortunately, John Kourtis, suffered an injury Monday. He will be out for the rest of the spring, but we don’t think it is anything long term. It is an MCL sprain, but it’s a pretty good one. He will be out for the remainder of spring. We’ve got a few nicks and knacks that people are out here and there for one practice, but that’s the only ones that I can think of. Obviously, besides those surgeries that we had earlier.”
WITH KOURTIS BEING OUT, WHO IS GETTING REPS AT CENTER?
“Bryce Mathews. Of course Tom is back. Bryce is getting a lot of snaps at center which we had planned to do anyway. We’re actually going to get John (Kourtis) some reps at guard because he has a little more girth and can hold up a little better maybe against some of these three-techniques that we are facing today. Bryce is getting a few of them and a mixture of people with the third and fourth group.”
FROM A RECRUITING STANDPOINT, HOW CHALLENGING IS THE DEAD PERIOD?
“Very challenging, very uncertain, uncomfortable a bit. You do the best you can with these Zoom calls and still involving the same people that we would should we be on the road recruiting. It’s a little uncomfortable. You certainly are not as confident as you normally are when you get them to campus. If we got the right type of kid, does he really like to work, love ball, chase a standard, and understand Liberty to the full extent that they could from a normal recruiting period. It’s uncomfortable, but it is what it is. I get on the phone every single practice day with six different recruits on FaceTime stuff. Then, we try to do some group sessions on Zoom with either me or our different coaches throughout the week. We are doing the best we can with it, but we would sure like to start getting them to campus soon. I think that is advantageous to us.”
YOU HAVE EXPANDED THE RECRUITING STAFF, HOW MUCH HAS THAT HELPED THROUGHOUT THIS PROCES?
“Well, there’s two different dynamics to our recruiting office that I believe in. One is the personnel side that I look to have on my desk before I talk to the kid an evaluation from the personnel office and the recruiting coach/coordinator also combined. That’s the personnel side of it. Tim Baggett leads that up with TJ (Randall) and James (McClintock) and Ethan Johnson is involved in that too some. That is the personnel side.”
“Everybody in this building is involved in recruiting, period. You can’t work here and not be involved in recruiting. That’s understood on the front end, but that is their primary responsibility in recruiting is the evaluation and details on what’s going on in the kid’s life whether there has been a shoulder surgery, a knee surgery, an issue with a coach, he transferred, was there issues. That personnel and also what kind of player is he, what do you think. I send them to training once a year with some NFL people on that. You have that side of it. They also do help with the Zoom calls from time to time.”
“Then, on the other side of it, you’ve got the recruiting operations/actual recruitment of the kid. Ethan is definitely overseeing that. Jovon (Hubbard), Hunter Carson, and our student volunteers. Olivia Jensen who we just hired. Hunter was huge in that. They are the ones that are always on the phone with recruits and bringing it to me. I don’t want to jump the gun, but we are losing Hunter, that is disappointing. She has done a remarkable job. We wish them well. That means we’re hiring good people because people are coming after them, and she is moving to a Power Five school to do on campus recruiting like she’s done here. We’re happy for her. We’ll have to replace that spot.”
“I don’t know if I’m making sense, but there are two different dynamics going on. That second dynamic is also in charge of recruiting operations, scheduling official visits, coaches’ travel, all of those things. I think we have a great set up. It’s worked for me everywhere I’ve been. Pleased with the amount of support the administration has given us to fill all those slots.”
HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE CONCERN WITH COVID HAPPENING IN THE PROGRAM?
“I’ll be dead honest with you, I don’t give it one ounce of my worry. I don’t even think about it anymore. I get the test results back each week. If they’re negative, I’m excited. If there are a few positives, I don’t fret or worry. I just make sure, number one, they don’t have many systems and they are okay. I don’t know if this is good, bad or indifferent, but it’s kind of just become part of life and you just accept that I have zero control over it. So, it doesn’t do me one ounce of good to worry over it.”
HAS THAT BEEN MORE OF AN EVOLUTION FOR YOU AS COACHES?
“Now, I will say, it was definitely more worrisome in the season. This spring, I don’t find myself worrying about it at all, but I’m not Coach McKay right now either, or myself getting ready to play a bowl game. So, I think there are different seasons of life, and this one right now, the spring, I don’t find myself being caught up worried with it really at all right now.”
WHAT SHOWS ON TV ARE YOU WATCHING RIGHT NOW?
“People judge me on pretty much everything, I think. I’m ok with it, I’m accustomed to it. I tell you, my favorite show is Blacklist, I love it. I think James Spader is the best actor, ever. He cracks me up, I like that one. SEAL Team. I’m a big SEAL Team fan, love SEAL Team. I’ll watch S.W.A.T., it’s ok, but I think the acting is kind of like Walker, Texas Ranger style, but I will watch it. I like this new show, my wife said, you need to try this I think you will like it, it’s Clarice, off the Silence of the Lambs movie. It’s kind of spooky a little bit. I like that one. Those are the ones we Tivo, and then I Tivo every NASCAR race, every PGA Golf Tournament and LPGA Golf Tournament because I have something to watch when I do watch. I can’t think of anything else. I think that’s the shows. I’m sure there’s maybe a few more. There’s a lot on the playlist, but I don’t know what they are. I don’t watch them. I think that’s more my wife and kids.”
EXCITED TO SEE WILLIAM BYRON GET THE WIN?
“Man, that was huge. I talked to he and his pit crew after that. Shoot, to get that done so early in the season so that he knows there’s an absolute, almost certain chance that he will be in the chase. I think that’s kind of a huge burden off the way they have that set up, to have off him. He was running real good last week, also, but I think he’s going to have a great year.”
WHAT ABOUT RICKY STENHOUSE, YOU THINK HE’S GOING TO GET THE MONKEY OFF HIS BACK?
“I talk to him weekly, actually. I’m helping him and his team a little bit, kind of sending him some thoughts of the week sort of like I do our team. He’s always kept up with me, so we talk weekly. Man, right now he’s pleased. He’s par-ing, what we would consider to be pars in the golf terminology. He’s run in the top 15 in most every race. He’s right around that. If he stays in that mode and gets a few birdies here and there, there’s a good chance the stats would say you would make the chase. Obviously, a win would be incredibly nice, but the mindset I think has to be let’s keep making par’s and have ourselves in position around that top 16 to make the chase.”