The Liberty football team returned to practice on Monday morning for spring practice as they near the end of the spring workouts. The spring period will conclude on Saturday, April 9 with the Football Spring Game held from 10 am – 12 noon. Following Monday’s practice, head football coach Hugh Freeze met with the media. Here is everything he had to say beginning with his opening statement.
“9 practices in, I believe,” he said. “2 weeks left. I really believe. I think y’all know I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t believe it, I think we are pretty much 9 for 9 with effort and our attitude’s good, the energy has been nice. Got to give credit to our coaches for that, for getting their guys ready to have competitive periods and throughout the practices that we have. I thought today was the same. I thought it was really competitive. I loved the smiles and the celebrations on each side when something well is done.”
“We’ve got a long way to go, still. A lot of things to clean up, but I do like, to this point, what we’ve been able to accomplish in the nine practices that we’ve had. I thought we took a step forward today in the last period offensively with quarterbacks making the right reads and receivers making a few plays. Ended it with an interception that wasn’t good, but prior to that play, the run game I thought we were pretty balanced. I think we’re getting better in the offensive line too. I’m pleased to this point. Still a lot of question marks – who the quarterback is, all look promising at times. I think defensively we have a chance to be pretty solid again. Really excited about what I’ve seen with Dae Dae. I think he adds another weapon to us offensively. Still banged up at receiver really bad there. We’ve got to get some of those guys back, but all in all good to this. It’s about still convincing everyone in this building that our object is to prepare everyone in our program to create value for themselves when opportunities arise whether in life as a coach or as a player who has exhausted his eligibility or whether it’s an opportunity on the field for our upcoming season. You’ve got to condition yourself for that every day to be ready for those opportunities.”
DO YOU FORESEE DAE DAE BEING AN EVERY DOWN TYPE BACK?
“So far, I see no reason why he couldn’t be. I think he’s physical. I think he has outstanding vision as a runner. Probably the one question mark I guess I still would have would be what type of receiver he is but he caught a good wheel route today for about 60 yard touchdown. I think he can do that also. We just haven’t put all that stuff in yet. I really believe he could be an every down back. I like that room with him and TJ and Shedro and Malik Caper has shown some good things too this spring. I like that room. I think you could see us some probably with two of them on the field and using Shedro some in a lot of different ways.”
KOBE SINGLETON IN A NON-CONTACT JERSEY AND DEXTER RICKS GOT A LOT OF PLAYING TIME, DO YOU LIKE HIM AS A FRESHMAN?
“Yeah, I love him. I think he’s got this silent confidence about him for a true freshman. He’s given me a lot of quality reps right now that will help add depth to that room. Kobe is fine, he just tested positive for Mono. He has to stay out of contact for a certain period of time. It will be good to get him back because he had looked really solid also coming into this. Those two freshmen DBs – Sweeney and Ricks both – I think we were right to recruit them.”
WITH DEMARIO AND CJ DANIELS MISSING SOME TIME, WHO ELSE DO YOU NEED TO STEP UP AT SLOT?
“We’ve moved Javian (Lofton) in there today and thought he showed a little promise and Brody (Brumm) and then Kylen Austin has got to really come on, I hope. D’Wayne Crawford is getting some reps there too, but we moved Javian in there today. We haven’t watched the film yet, but there were times when I thought he looked promising there also. We’re missing both CJs and Demario right now which is a big chunk of the production that we would expect out of that receiver room.”
HOW MUCH OF A CARRY OVER EFFECT DO YOU EXPECT FROM PRO DAY FOR THIS YEAR’S TEAM?
“It should have a positive ripple effect on our entire program for at least, you would think, through the Draft, his rookie year, probably be hard pressed to get more ripple effect out of it after that. It will still, certainly, hopefully be something positive we can use because I believe Malik will always represent our university and program very well. But, there’s no doubt, when you’re on national TV and our place shows well to begin with. It’s like I’ve always said about recruiting, if we can get them to the Mountain we have a chance because the culture, the atmosphere, the experience that they have here, the facilities, the partnership with all of campus like you saw on Pro Day, every body pitched in and did their part. I can’t tell you the number of e-mails I have received from either general managers, scouts saying, ‘We go to hundreds of these and yours was top notched at Liberty, really well done.’ I think there certainly should be some ripple effect in, through, and around the program for a while.”
HOW HAS YOUR MINDSET IN SPRING BALL CHANGED DURING YOUR TIME AT LIBERTY?
“Well, we are 3-0 in bowl games in 3 years so the standard has kind of been set. Until you get in a conference, the objective is become bowl eligible and be competitive in the games that are on our schedule. Next year’s schedule is by far the hardest that we’ve had. I’m ok with that for a year, then I will be excited to get into Conference USA and let’s compete for a conference championship hopefully. Until then, it is what it is, and our objective hasn’t changed and that’s to put our kids and our fans in some competitive situations and hopefully we are up to meeting some of those challenges. At the end of it all, to play to put another banner up in the Indoor that we’ve won another bowl game. That would be the objective. So, the mindset has certainly changed from year one I didn’t think it was possible we could go to a bowl game after spring ball, I really didn’t, and certainly didn’t at the start of the year when I was in a hospital bed and I didn’t think we were playing really well. The mindset definitely has changed.”
HOW EXCITED ARE YOU ABOUT ADDING BREWER INTO THIS PROGRAM?
“I believe competition, in general, makes us all better if you accept it. The people that want or feel something should be given to them probably won’t fare very well when the competitiveness starts in a position group or on a team, but there’s no question that he’s elevated the competition in that room. I haven’t seen any signs that the other kids are backing down from that competition. It’s always good to have a guy who has some experience that has played in some games like the ones we’re going to be asked to play and had some success in them. I think it’s a positive all the way around.”
TYREN DUPREE WAS MOVING AROUND QUITE A BIT ON DEFENSE, DO YOU LIKE HIS VERSATILITY?
“I think he’s had a different mindset this spring too. I really think he kind of feels renewed and more of a leadership role. I like the way his body has changed some in the offseason. Today they were putting in some heavy packages for some of the bigger personnel. That’s the way they are trying to use him in some of those heavy packages as one of those outside guys. I think he is flexible enough to do multiple things for us and excited about his leadership more than anything right now.”
SIMILAR TO AAKIL WASHINGTON?
“Maybe, Aakil probably is going to stay more in the box. I don’t know that we’re going to ask him to learn a lot of things outside the box, but I don’t know, maybe. We really don’t know because he broke his hand after what 4 practices and we haven’t seen him in anything other than individual drills thus far.’
HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK THE TRANSFER PORTAL HAS BENEFITED YOU AND YOUR STAFF AT LIBERTY?
“Well, you just mentioned some pretty good names that came through via the transfer portal or prior to the transfer portal like in Malik’s case. Truthfully, I think it’s a great addition probably to most every program has picked up some help in some way from it. I certainly don’t feel any differently than the others. I think when you go that route, as long as you don’t mess up the culture of the program, I think it can have positive impact on it. It just creates more competition and you get a more mature kid sometimes. I guess we are approaching now, I’m trying to remember, my first class, no offense to anyone, I wouldn’t call me getting here in December and that first class really our first real class of signees, but hopefully you start seeing some of those signees we had in the second two years of recruiting, you start seeing those being developed here and having the same successes like Malik, Storey, and D-Lo and some of those guys in the Pro Day.”
LOSING MALIK WILLIS IN THE RUN GAME, HOW DO YOU COMPENSATE FOR THAT LOSS?
“That’s a great question that is very tough to replace Malik Willis. It’s hard. He was such a dual-threat and those don’t come along all the time. Truthfully, if you rewind to Malik’s spring practices, prior to him playing games, we had no clue that he could really do all that because you blow the whistle on quarterbacks, you don’t let them get hit. I think there’s potential that Kaidon Salter can do that. I think there’s potential that Nate Hampton can be an effective runner too. Probably won’t know that until we get some live bullets, but I think it will be a partnership of replacing Malik. I think Dae Dae and those running backs will play a huge role in it. Hopefully we can center our run game more around them and throw in some of the quarterback type runs that Malik had also with some guys that may be gifted toward that.”
WOULD YOU CONSIDER PACKAGES FOR KAIDON OR FOR WHOEVER IS NOT THE STARTER AT QB?
“I will consider anything that helps us win. If some body can play a role and help us win, I will be all for whatever package that is.”
HOW HAVE YOU SEEN JAVON SCRUGGS GROW OVER THE YEARS?
“We actually elected a culture council that kind of has the freedom at any time to come to me and say hey coach what do you think about this and I think this is an issue or this is an issue, and Scruggs got the most votes of any one. There were others that had lots of votes, but Scruggs certainly and to get that vote of confidence from your entire team. This is not a defensive election or an offensive election, but an entire team. For him to get that, I think that speaks volumes for how he has developed as a leader here.”
A YEAR IN, HOW MUCH HAVE YOU GUYS ADJUSTED TO NIL?
“Truthfully, it never comes up around our building with our staff. I’m not opposed to it. I think these young men should get whatever they can. I’m for them. However, I do believe when decisions are made based on what’s best for you at this point in juncture of your development as a young man, as a student-athlete, and all of those things is based up some NIL deal, this is probably not the exact place for you. I just don’t know if that’s the way I want to operate. I am certainly for it. Malik had a really good deal, Demario’s got it, the O-Line has County Smoak, I love that one, I think that’s the greatest thing. Our school, cost of attendance is one of the nation’s best, we pay, obviously, for all of their tuition, books, housing. We also are a university that I think will in a short amount of time give the Austin money for those who are academically eligible. To me that’s kind of the name, image, and likeness that I want to do because they are doing well. They are doing something that is going to help them for their future.”
“Again, I am not against Name, Image, and Likeness. I think if a young man can make some money off the selling of their jersey or something, I am all for that. I just don’t want that to be the motivating factor for why young men come and play here. Maybe I’m the only coach that feels that way, I don’t know. For it, but I sure don’t want it to be the priority for where young men are trying to go and develop for those opportunities that may come there way.”
DO YOU SEE THAT AS A BARRIER THAT MIGHT SEPARATE SOME OF THOSE UPPER ECHELON PROGRAMS?
“There’s no doubt the ones who have the people that are going to pour the money into it for the young men that are going to go to that level, it could have an effect. I can’t speak for the kids and their families. It could have an effect on where they go. I think there’s still a lot of question marks. What happens after that? I don’t know how all that works. I really don’t. So a kid signs up for, I don’t know, let’s call it a million dollars. Do you just give him the million dollars or is it contractual, does he have to earn it? I don’t understand it. What happens in that locker room when the first one of those doesn’t perform and he’s not playing, so does he transfer? Does he still get his million dollars? Maybe then he will come to us and we will start working on developing him outside of all of that. I don’t know. I really have no clue how all of that is going to shake out. I’d like to meet all the people that are going to give them those amounts of money and what happens when things don’t really work out? Are you going to give it again? I guess people have enough money to do that, but it just concerns me. I think we have one of the greatest sport organizations as far as college football, and I guess anytime something like this starts to change the dynamics of it, it is concerning a little bit. I am happy for any of our kids that get it, I really am. I hope that doesn’t become the driving force behind their decisions of how they choose to develop themselves.”
WHO AT OUTSIDE RECEIVER HAS STOOD OUT TO YOU THIS SPRING?
“Caleb Snead has a chance. Noah’s got to get more consistent, he should be and hopefully these last two weeks he will take a step forward. We need Treon to continue to develop. He’s got a skill set that could help us too. Khaleb Coleman, also. Those four guys are the ones we are looking to have a solid two weeks in spring.”