Liberty concluded its spring practice last week, and head coach Hugh Freeze held a press conference on Wednesday to discuss the conclusion of the spring session. Here’s everything Freeze had to say during this media session, beginning with his opening statement:
“I was very pleased (with spring practice). I thought with the 15 days, obviously 3 of those are in non-padded practices. If you take those out, the remaining 12, I really thought we had 11 of 12 really, really good practices. I think that’s a high percentage, it’s a high mark for it, I think that speaks to some of the maturity on our team. It felt like we had productive practices most all of those days.”
“Was really pleased with the way they came back from the open practice on that Saturday, we had two remaining the following week. Was real pleased at the work they got, the effort they brought into those last two. Really pleased, I think we’ve added depth at some places we needed. We’re still looking for a little additional help at a couple of spots, but all in all, I was really pleased with spring ball.”
HOW PLEASED WERE YOU WITH AHMAD AND KACI AT LINEBACKER IN HELPING TO BUILD DEPTH?
“One of the things about the way we approached spring is the young kids got plenty of reps. In the linebacker room, with Tyren Dupree and Carl Poole being out with shoulder injuries, it made for a lot of reps for those younger kids and new kids like Rashaad Harding. I think Ahmad is one heck of a football player, he’s going to be a really good one, he’s just young, loved having him hear this spring. Kaci is more of a hybrid for us right now. Think he’s going to grow into one of those Jessie Lemonier like defensive ends for us really. Moved Jerome Jolly to linebacker along with Micah Glaize, so they got quality reps there too to provide some depth. Aaron Pierre’s leadership has been very good there, but we need to get everybody back healthy and still kind of have in the back of our mind the possibility of taking another one to get us to the number nine in that room that we really want.”
IS DLINE FINALLY TO THE POINT WHERE YOU HAVE THE DEPTH NEEDED?
“We’re at the number there. Certainly we will be over it a little bit with the Super Seniors returning there. Once we get Boti and Zachary and Brunson here and Jackson Shirer. That room, we definitely improved since our arrival here. We’ve gotten longer. I like the look at that room. Love the fact that Ralfs, Elijah, and Jayod are coming back to stay with us and help us keep building. They provide really good leadership in that room.”
WAS THERE ONE BIG OBJECTIVE YOU HAD FOR SPRING BALL?
“If we’re talking specifically this past spring, it may be a little different, but generally I would always say about spring practice is to produce quality depth at positions through spring ball. That would be the one thing I would say spring ball is provided by. I’ve been on record many times saying I wish we didn’t have spring ball. I wish they would give us two weeks of training like in June during the camp season while you’re already here, your staff is here, and you have all the newcomers here. I would much rather do that than go through spring ball, but irregardless of when it is, the objective would be to get ahead of the curve in providing quality depth.”
IT SEEMS LIKE THOSE 15 SPRING PRACTICES GO BY SO FAST.
“It goes fast. It seems like the older I get, the time does that. Whether it’s the season or it’s a year or whether it’s spring ball. We stretched ours out over the course of a full month. That gives quality rest time and days in between practices to clean films up. It did go fast, and here we are now we will be taking exams before we blink and then into a full grind mode with the strength and conditioning staff which I think is vital. It will be August before we know it and we’re back at camp.”
ARE YOU HOPEFUL THAT THIS OFF-SEASON WILL BE MORE NORMAL?
“That would be really nice, but I’ve kind of just conditioned my mind I have zero control over exactly what that looks like. So, I try not to get caught up in unrealistic expectations or things that I can’t control. I do feel confident there will be a season. I’m somewhat optimistic that it would be more normal than not, I don’t have any facts to back that up, it just seems like that is the direction we seem to be headed in the nation. If it’s not, then our team and our coaches and our administration will take what is given to us and make the best of that situation. I’m sure hopeful that our fans will get to enjoy our games and things return to somewhat, a bit of normalcy. I don’t know that we will ever get back to exactly what it used to be, but I’m certainly hopeful for some more normal things to occur.”
YOU HAVE BEEN ACTIVE WITH 3 PREFERRED WALK-ONS AT KICKER AND A TRANSFER WR FROM NORTH TEXAS, ARE YOU ABLE TO COMMENT ON THOSE?
“Not individually, but certainly your assessment is accurate. We have been active. Tanner has done a nice job of trying to prepare us for the future whenever we lose Austin Mock and Aidan and Barbir and the other kicker. We’re always int he cycle of trying to have the next guy on campus, on the team, that would take their spot. Tanner has done a nice job with recruiting those. We’ve been pretty open that we would continue to look for outside receiver help, so we will continue to do that.”
DO YOU HAVE A STANDARD FOR HOW MANY SCHOLARSHIPS YOU HAVE FOR SPECIALISTS?
“I have an absolute plan that I won’t vary from and that’s three scholarships go to specialists. That’s what we will always stick with. It took me a little bit to get it that way here, but that’s what I believe in. That leaves you with 82 and defense needs to have 42 of them and offense needs to have 40 of the remaining. I can’t say it will always be exactly that way, sometimes the best available gets one of those, but in my mind that’s the way it should be with offense having 40, defense 42, and the specialists 3. I would like to have the specialists on campus to just rotate on that scholarship after being with us.”
SO WHO WON THE FREEZE FAMILY MARCH MADNESS POOL?
“Unbelievably, my daughter Ragan who probably put the least amount of effort into researching any teams. I did have Baylor winning it all, as did several of my family. I did not fare very well in that family get together.”
WERE YOU NEAR THE MIDDLE OF THE PACK?
“I was in the middle, wasn’t dead last, but was dead in the middle. There were only 7 of us.”
WHAT POSITION GROUP IMPROVED THE MOST OVER THE SPRING?
“I would have to say my initial gut is the safeties, just because of the additions of Skyler, Rocket, Jaylon. Corners, I would say that too because Lowe was a great addition there and Daijahn was a good addition too, but probably safety. I felt like we were faster, more physical there.”
IS THERE ANY HOPE CJ YARBROUGH RETURNS TO THE TEAM?
“CJ is a great kid. I think his decision was made that he was going a different direction than college football. That is my understanding in my conversations with him. We respect that and wish the best for him.”
LOSING HIM, HOW MUCH HAVE YOU PLACED ON NOAH TO BE A LEADER OUT THERE?
“Noah is definitely one we look to for leadership there. He will be heavily leaned on come fall to be the leader of that group and hopefully to produce good numbers. He’s got to work on accepting that role and having confidence in that role as he steps into it. We still need others to step up there. I thought there were days that Lofton I thought took some strides forward. Obviously, we believe in CJ Daniels, but he was out most of spring with injury. Definitely need Noah to be a leader in that group.”
WHAT DID YOU SEE OUT OF JAIVIAN THIS SPRING AND DO YOU THINK HE WILL BE ABLE TO CONSISTENTLY PRODUCE THIS FALL?
“We sure hope so. There is no way to predict injuries, but I do feel like he has put himself in a position to have a role on this team. How big of a role will be determined by how he handles fall camp and the offseason and obviously his production. Shaa was out also which we held him out of most every live rep. He’ll provide some added leadership and depth to that outside position also.”
WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO THE FAN BASE ABOUT EXPECTATIONS THIS COMING SEASON?
“Well, it’s good that they have those expectations, it means we’ve done something right for them to feel that way, but I would also say be guarded on expectations in particular because we’re an Independent. Every year’s schedule has a little different flavor, a little different variety and certainly you can’t predict how injuries will occur. When you’re not in a normal every year schedule with a conference with a few out of conference teams, you’re playing basically a new schedule every year, which there is some excitement to that and some positive to that also, but 8 wins on a given year versus a certain schedule could really be equal to 10 or 11 wins against another year’s schedule. I’m very careful not to put quantitative values on what success looks like for a given season. I said it before, I’ll say it again, I believe a reasonable expectation for our program is for us to be competing week in, week out with whoever is on our schedule and for us to end up hopefully going to bowl games most every year. To me, that is really where we should just keep our focus and that’s being ultra competitive, no matter who is on the schedule, that doesn’t mean you win them all, and ultimately being able to represent our university on a national stage in a bowl game.”
YOU GOING TO ANY OF THE UPCOMING IN-STATE NASCAR RACES?
“I actually thought about that and talked to Stenhouse, which I do weekly, but I don’t know. I’m not a big live sports, outside of coaching, I like watching them on TV and I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I might would do that for him and for William Byron, obviously, just to see those guys, who are both having great years by the way. I know I won’t this weekend because it’s the Masters. I don’t know, but this is Masters weekend so I will catch both of them on Tivo, but I might go to the Richmond one next week, we will see.”
HOW DID IT MATERIALIZE WITH YOU BEING A WEEKLY COACH WITH STENHOUSE?
“We’re friends number one. When I was at Ole Miss, he’s a Mississippi guy just like I was raised there. We’re raised maybe 20 minutes apart, he’s in Olive Branch and I was in a little town called Independence. He would come and watch us play games at Ole Miss every chance he got and come to practice. He came to find out I love NASCAR and we hit it off there. When I drove the pace car at Talladega, I got to hang out with him, sat in his pit box then. So, we just have really developed a really good friendship. Like many people, when you get to see the inside of a football program, some coaches you relate to, just like with me, some books I read really, really just catch my attention and I relate to it and it speaks to me, or some preachers or whatever it is. He likes the themes that we do during the season. I don’t know that I’m doing much for coaching for him, he just likes, I think he’s using some of the themes I’m using to use for his team as they’re trying to build into being one of those top 16 contenders to make the chase. That was his request of me and certainly I was happy to try to give him something every week or two to help his team.”
DO YOU TALK WITH HIM DIRECTLY OR DO A ZOOM WITH HIS TEAM?
“It’s been some of both, but typically it is just me and him. Will, our video guy, will send him something from my past that he has recorded. He shows it to his team and then they usually reach out to me to say thanks and what they got out of it.”
YOU MENTIONED EARLIER HE NEEDS TO STRIVE FOR PARS EACH WEEK IS THAT PART OF YOUR MESSAGE TO HIM?
“He and I both love golf, so it was his idea to talk in terms of golf. My thoughts are there are some weeks that you need to get a bogey out of it. Let’s just don’t have triple bogey. Even if one of those happens, you just got to play the next play. You can’t blink, but obviously pars are great and birdies are even better, and he might throw in an eagle every now and then if he can win one of those restrictor plates or one of those that his car is really good at. The objective is just let’s try to do things that keep us in the game long enough to make a par. If you have a penalty or something that sets you back, you don’t have to get it all back at once, just stay in the game, and let’s manufacture a bogey out of it if you need to. Look up at the end of the day and maybe you have a par.”
WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE FOR THE MASTERS?
“Oh man, that’s hard. I think it’s great for the game of golf that Jordan Spieth is competing. It wouldn’t shock me if he competes for it, but Justin Thomas has been playing so well this year. I think he has all the shots for that course, so I guess if I had to say one it would probably be Justin Thomas, but there are so many great ones now. My heart kind of pulls for Lee Westwood to be in it again. I guess because I’m an older guy and he’s older, but I like that guy. He’s like one you want to hang around with and play a round of golf with. I’d love to see him in it. Then, you’ve got the super fire powers of Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson and DeChambeau, who knows what they will do. It wouldn’t shock me if Justin Thomas was the winner.”
I THINK CBS NEEDS TO CALL YOU IN AS A GOLF ANALYST.
“I can break golf down, but I have no interest in traveling to be an analyst. If I can do it from home I will do that. When I get through coaching, I will do the commentary if they let me do it from home. I don’t like traveling very much.”
WHAT NASCAR DRIVES DID YOU LIKE?
“I was always a Jeff Gordon and Earnhardt guy. I like both of those. Then, when I got to meet Mr. Hendrick and I actually went down and did the opening leadership deal for the 24 team and all their crew with Chad Knaus. So, obviously it was always Gordon and Earnhardt until I got to know these guys. Now, I’m Stenhouse and William Byron, and I’m friends with Rodney Childers too on the 4 car. So, I got to pull for those, and I love Joe Gibbs. I like all those guys. I just love the competitiveness of this year so far, so many different winners. It’s not being dominated by any one car.”
WHO ON YOUR FOOTBALL TEAM WOULD BE GOOD ON A NASCAR PIT CREW?
“I think any of those DLinemen would do awesome in the pit crew. Probably our tight ends, they look like pit crew guys that I’ve seen, pretty well put together, lean, strong. None of those wide receivers would do very good.”
DID YOU GROW UP GOING TO RACE TRACKS OR JUST FROM WATCHING ON TV?
“Pretty much TV. We didn’t go hardly anywhere when I was growing up. So, I didn’t go to any races. I’ve only been to two races, but I was kind of hooked on it just watching it on TV. My wife usually takes a nap while I’m watching it.”