Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze’s journey has been well documented. His rise from a high school coach to winning the Sugar Bowl at Ole Miss was meteoric. His fall was even more sudden.
After resigning from Ole Miss in July 2017, Freeze sat out the 2017 and 2018 football seasons before finally getting another opportunity to man the sidelines. He was named Liberty’s head coach in December 2018, and he immediately set the team’s goals on being the first one in school history to reach a bowl game.
“I have been fortunate in year one to go to a bowl game at every school that I have been at,” Freeze stated after Liberty’s win over New Mexico State this past Saturday. “I think it speaks for the coaches that we bring in. We create a culture that sets a standard of competition and work.”
His first 5 seasons as head coach of an FBS team, he went to a bowl game every year. From the GoDaddy.com bowl in 2011 with Arkansas State to the Sugar Bowl following the 2015 season with Ole Miss. Freeze and the Flames await for official determination this Sunday to see if Liberty will get the call, but in his first season with the Flames, Freeze has the team bowl eligible for the first time ever.
“I am so thrilled for President Falwell and Becki (Falwell),” Freeze said. “The vision that was cast by his father, and for us to walk in that vision is pretty unique, humbling, and special. Ian (McCaw) and his administration is so supportive, and they are just servant leaders, and it is incredible to work for them. To see them get to celebrate in this is pretty unique and special.”
This 2019 season was not what he would have envisioned either, as Freeze missed 23 days of practice during training camp following surgery from a staph infection in his back. He then was forced to coach from the press box for the first two games, both Liberty losses, before returning to the sideline in a makeshift pit box in week three.
The Flames are also working with just one full signing class as an FBS team, as most of the current 2019 roster was originally recruited to play for an FCS football team.
“President Falwell and his crew were nice enough when I took the job to let me stay in the mansion,” said Freeze. “I would walk by his father’s office quite frequently and I would think about the vision that was cast four decades or so ago, and, now, God knew I would walk in that vision at some point. It kind of makes you feel like there is a bit of pressure to get it done because you want so badly to see everything he envisioned, and we are going to get there. This was a big step toward that, so it is very fulfilling.”
Now, Freeze and this 2019 football team will forever be remembered as the first to ever get the program to bowl eligibility. It was their ultimate goal this season, and one they worked hard for for the past 11 months.
“We’ve been naming that since summer workouts,” running back Joshua Mack said of bowl eligibility. “We’ve been trying to make history. We’ve been trying to do something that’s never been done here.”
Mack echoes what many of the Liberty players said after the team’s bowl eligibility clinching 7th win on Saturday.
“It’s a blessing to see all the hard work we put in in the offseason and throughout the whole season,” senior safety Elijah Benton said. “To be able to accomplish the goal that we had at the beginning of the season, it’s a blessing. Having your goal right in front of you and being able to accomplish it, you always have to dig deeper and find a little extra. I think that’s what the whole team did (Saturday).”
Liberty coaches, players, and fans are all anxiously awaiting Sunday’s news, but regardless of what the outcome is, this team and this senior class will always be remembered for being the first Liberty football team to ever reach bowl eligibility.
“We wanted to be the first ever to become bowl eligible here,” said Freeze. “Those seniors, it’s a great legacy for them to leave that 20 years from now, when we have a reunion, they’re the ones that led and set this groundwork.”