On Tuesday, Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze met with the media as his team has opened spring practice. The Flames hit the field on Monday morning for the first of 15 scheduled 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.
“I’m teaching a series to our players and staff for the month of March from Win the Day by Mark Batterson. This week’s theme is flipping the script. I shared in about a 20 minute session yesterday with our staff and kids of what that should look like for us. How do we flip the script from a fantastic yet challenging 2020 to how do we flip the script and get past that, as great as it was, all the great memories we will have, but how do you sustain that? I think it’s based around this theme of being a program that is about good habits. That’s the challenge for me and our staff and our players. I was real pleased with the body language, the energy, our attention to little things yesterday was really good. I was pleased with day one.”
HOW MUCH DOES ALL THE RETURNEES HELP THIS SPRING?
“We’re deeper than we’ve ever been. We actually went four groups yesterday – four offenses versus four defenses in certain segments of practice and had enough people to get everything done, particularly in the skeleton situations or perimeter, may not quite have four O-Lines or D-Lines. I think those kids coming back, there are certainly some negatives to COVID. I think the high school kids are really getting hurt by it, but there’s no doubt it’s positive to have 16 experienced, solid, good players that also understand the culture that we are trying to create and the standard that we want to chase. I don’t know that I can put it into words how valuable that is in the locker room and in the offseason programs with Dom. It was pretty neat. I felt like we were just kind of extending practice from last year, it was kind of a weird feeling. I feel like we have basically the same team plus some others.”
HOW UNIQUE IS IT FOR YOU TO HAVE SO MANY RETURNEES?
“It’s quite different. The practice schedule won’t be much different. We always try to accomplish the same things in spring ball. Those older kids, you’re not concerned with how many reps they really get. We’re more concerned with all these new kids and these younger ones. They should get 60-70% of the reps compared to those super seniors that are returning. They already know it. You certainly depend on them to set the tone in the locker room, in the meeting room, in the weight room, and at practice, but you know you don’t have to spend the number of reps. You just want to make sure they are getting to the bus next year because they have already proven they know our stuff. If we put in something new that we haven’t done, they might get more reps that day, but I’ve been pretty clear with my instructions on getting them a lot of individual work but we’re not concerned with how many reps the O-Line that are returning as super seniors get. Chase Mitchell needs the reps. He’s going to be a phenomenal player, but he needs the reps. Damian Bounds doesn’t need a lot of reps. Brendan Schlittler doesn’t need a lot of reps. Schultz, let’s just make sure they are in the best shape of their life come fall camp.”
HOW CLOSE IS THIS ROSTER TO GETTING TO A FULL FBS LEVEL?
“This roster is, in my opinion, at 80% of where we need to be. Now, I’m not sure there’s any place that I’ve been that I felt we were 100% where we hit on absolutely every where for the level we are playing, if that makes sense. So, whether it’s Ole Miss or Arkansas State or whether it’s here, I’m not sure we’ll ever get to 100 but I sure would like to be around 90 that I feel like they are truly the level that we’re playing against. We’re close. A lot closer, obviously.”
HOW DO YOU BALANCE THE DEPTH WITH YOUNGER GUYS AND THE TRANSFER PORTAL?
“You speak to truth to them. Some won’t like the truth. Some will respect you for sharing the truth and understand the blessing that they have with the grass that is underneath their feet here. I will also share the truth with them if you look at the numbers that are in the transfer portal, you better educate yourself because there’s going to be over 1,000 kids without a home that thought this transfer portal was the absolute best thing for them and someone led them to believe that was great advice. Now, all of a sudden, there’s going to be over 1,000 kids, probably, at the end of this spring semester without a home to go to. You need to understand the facts of what is real and understand the blessing that this place is giving you and not everything is instant gratification in this world. It doesn’t come without some work and some sacrifice. That’s the way we will approach it. Will it work for every single person? Probably not, but I sure hope they lean toward gathering the correct wisdom before making a decision that will alter the blessings that they have currently.”
STETSON MOORE HAS BEEN SHIFTED TO WR FROM TE, IS THAT DUE IN PART BECAUSE OF YARBROUGH OPTING OUT OF THE SPRING?
“It’s the combination of all of it. He’s still kind of half and half. One day he goes indo with Ben (Aigamaua) at tight end, one day he goes indo with Mo (Harris). He’s a hybrid. I’m not sure exactly what that is going to look like in the spring, but I know that we like having a bigger body that can do that. He and Johnny (Huntley) both will get some reps out there. I think we become more difficult to defend when we can get in our 12 personnel and at the same time also be in some tight formations and the next time have one of them flexed out. I’m really impressed with his ball skills yesterday. Blocking, we’re going to ask him to be a little more physical than he’s had to be in the past, but it was a combination of just trying to play to his skill-sets and also making sure we have enough bigger bodies for outside work.”
DOES THAT OPEN THE DOOR FOR TREVOR HOBBS TO GET MORE REPS?
“Trevor is going to get a large majority of the reps. I don’t need to see Johnny’s reps in spring ball. I don’t need to see Jerome’s. We need Brayden Monday and we need Trevor and Bollinger and these other guys and Stetson to get the majority of the reps.”
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE OUT OF RB TJ GREEN THIS SPRING?
“Really excited about him right now. We haven’t put pads on yet, but excited about the way he performed with Coach Dom. Excited about his maturity. Comes by my office and he’s a grown man, we have grown man conversations. He really is seeking to be the best him he can be. Yesterday in our first practice, I loved the burst that he had. I think he has a good football mind. I’m really, really excited about what the possibilities are for him.”
HOW MUCH WILL IT HELP TO HAVE A MORE TRADITIONAL OFFSEASON IN DEVELOPMENT OF YOUR OLINE AND DLINE?
“Fortunately, our upperclassmen all decided to come back at those two positions. You’re returning kids that have been with Dom for a while now. I’m pretty pleased with where they currently are. I look at Henry Chibueze. When we got here he was 372 pounds or something. This guy yesterday at practice is 305 and looking really, really good. I’m pretty pleased with those upperclassmen. Now it’s these younger guys. We need to get them looking the same. Us not missing the workouts that we’re currently having plus the ones we’re going to have in April, a few in May, and then obviously we missed June last year, a part of it anyway. I think that consistency there will make a huge difference. Not only the workouts with Dom, but the nutritional program that Miss Danielle puts them on through our training table. Us having consistency in those two things I think will help those younger kids to develop like these other ones have.”
IS THE LB ROOM FINALLY STARTING TO GET TO WHERE YOU WANT IT NUMBER WISE?
“The jury is still out as far as the quality. I don’t know that we’re exactly where we need to be quality wise. Unfortunately, we had a few surgeries, and Dupree can’t go through spring, Jenkins can’t go through spring, Humes can’t go through spring, Carl Poole can’t go through spring. That’s the room that we needed the most work at probably, but the good thing is it gives Rashaad Harding and Ahmad Walker and Kaci Seegars plenty of reps. Pierre has become kind of the leader of that room. We’ve moved Micah Glaize to linebacker also, along with Jerome Jolly. It’s going to give a lot of time for those kids to get reps. We still probably, if the right guy came along, we would probably use one of our remaining scholarships on another linebacker if the right one came along.”
HOW MUCH ARE YOU WATCHING HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL IN VIRGINIA?
“We will be, I haven’t watched a lot yet. We’ll probably let them get 2-3 weeks in and then our recruiting office I know is staying on top of it, and they will start showing me and my staff some stuff. It’s unfortunate, really. The high school kids are getting hurt in some of the COVID world, combined with the transfer portal world. It’s very uncomfortable recruiting kids that you have not seen in person, nor have you been in their home, nor have you been in their school. It’s just very uncomfortable and it’s unfortunate it’s probably a lot of high school kids are going to get caught up in it.”
HOW MUCH ARE THE QBs BEHIND MALIK GETTING REPS?
“If you take Elijah James or Tristan Schultz, those guys I don’t need to see a lot of reps. They know how to line up and play, but the quarterback play is a little different. Malik still needs reps. He still needs to improve and be more consistent with his mechanics. He’s still going to get the 1 reps, but we are spending a lot of time getting the 2s, 3s and 4s. We’re doing split huddles in spring right now. So, every time the 1s are getting a rep, the 2s are on the other end getting the same rep. The 3s are getting their fair share too. JB has really changed his body. He’s in good shape. He looked good yesterday. Obviously, we got three others that are getting reps also between Will Bowers, Nate (Hampton), and Sean (Brown). They’re all going to get quality reps.”
WHAT WOULD BE THE NEXT POSITION GROUP THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE FILL OUT?
“It’s still linebacker right now. From yesterday’s practice, we improved our team in the secondary – at corner and at safety. They moved around well. I’m excited to see what happens there. I feel like we’ve addressed that a little bit. You never need to slow down on the DLine. You better always have DLine. I would say it’s linebacker and outside receiver, is where we really could use a little more help.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT GUS BEING HIRED AT UCF AND THEN POACHING SJ?
“I talked to Gus all the way through the whole deal. First, it was, do you think I should do it, do you think I shouldn’t? I know him well enough to know he’s bored to death and he needs to do something. I think you can win big there. I think he senses that and felt that. I was really happy for he and Kristi to get back in it because we need good people in coaching in college and he’s certainly one of the best at mentoring kids and at coaching the game. As far as SJ, I’m for my guys. I think if I’m 27 years old and have a choice between Orlando where my family is at least half the year and Lynchburg, even though for me, I don’t need the beachy areas or anything. I think it was more him wanting to get more experience under other people and be close to his family. I’m for all my guys.”
“Really happy for RJ Fleming. He deserved his own room. He’s a rising star. Obviously, we’ve lost him. That gives me room to elevate Logan Bradley, who is getting married. I promised I would take care of, I told his grand momma that when I got him. Now, he gets his first paycheck and insurance, and he’s getting married in May. That’s exciting when I see kids that we’ve raised really, RJ, get something. Now, Logan gets something, and put Michael (Chorowicz) in his place at GA, one of our own here. I’m happy for all our guys when they get opportunities that they think better advance them.”
WHAT DOES THAT DO FOR YOUR PROGRAM WHEN GUYS LIKE THAT ARE ABLE TO ADVANCE?
“If you look at the coaches that have left me and gone on, they’ve done pretty dang good every where they are. I think it speaks for our culture and our program. I hate that all our new offensive ideas are going to get out there, but that’s part of it. RJ will be telling the next staff about the new things that we’re doing that I think are very cutting edge that I really hadn’t shared with a lot of people. I know that that will get out there, but that’s good. I’m happy for them. It speaks volumes for our program and our guys. Y’all don’t know it because I don’t talk about it a lot, but that’s not the only ones that have had chances to leave and fortunately we’re at a good place that most people are choosing for them and their career it’s right for them to stay here. Obviously, if you are young and you’re not on the field and you get a chance, you need to do that. We’re happy for those, but also happy that most are choosing to stay.”