As Liberty is in its third week of practice leading up to the start of the 2021 season, the Flames are having a difficult start to the week. Whether it’s injuries, COVID issues, or the start of practice, Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze is hoping to fight through this week and get fully into game week prep for the season opener against Campbell on Sept. 4.

“I think this is the toughest time, I really do,” Freeze said following his team’s practice on Tuesday, the first since classes started on Monday. “When you are in week two, it gets a little tough but you have that scrimmage on Saturday to kind of look forward to. Then, they get hit with reality yesterday, up at 6, but now there’s no break when we get through practicing because they have class now. This is, to me, the most difficult week through probably Thursday then it starts up-ticking a little bit. It’s that time where you’ve got kids out with various things, injuries or nagging things. I wasn’t pleased with today, but I’m sure the film will show it was not as bad as I felt, but it certainly wasn’t consistent on either side. It could be my mindset. I don’t think I’ve ever, in all my years, had a great practice the first day of classes.”

Wide receiver Noah Frith had surgery on his right hand and will be out at the beginning of the season, Coach Freeze says he is hopeful the likely starting outside receiver will be back in time for Liberty’s second game at Troy or possibly the third game against Old Dominion.

Frith suffered the injury during practice last week. The redshirt-sophomore was slotted in as one of Liberty’s starting receivers entering the season. The 6’4″ receiver from Woodstock, Georgia is one of the team’s top outside receivers, perhaps the thinnest position on the team.

He has battled injuries throughout much of his Liberty career, playing in just six games a season ago when he finished the season with 16 receptions for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2019, as a redshirt-freshman, he missed four games due to injuries, but Frith still managed to grab 15 receptions for 291 yards and three touchdowns.

With Frith out of the lineup, Jaivian Lofton is expected to slide into the starting lineup at outside receiver alongside Kevin Shaa and DJ Stubbs, the team’s other receivers. Demario Douglas and CJ Daniels will also see plenty of time in the rotation at receiver, though both are naturally slot receivers. JUCO transfer Stetson Moore, who entered the program as a tight end and has moved to receiver officially during training camp, will also have a chance to slide in on the outside behind Lofton.

Backup center John Kourtis suffered a sprained MCL over the past week. He is currently missing practice and is likely to miss the first game or two of the season. With him out of the lineup, Bryce Mathews and true freshman Harrison Hayes are splitting reps as the second-string center behind super senior Thomas Sargeant. The pair are also part of the possible rotation as a second-string tackle, as well. Over the next couple of weeks, leading up to the Campbell game, Mathews and Hayes will split reps during practice.

Even starting quarterback Malik WIllis has dealt with ailments during camp, as he has fought through tendinitis in his arm. It’s something Freeze says it isn’t to be concerned with for Willis as the season approaches. The tendinitis caused him to miss a few practices last week as the Flames took it extra cautious.

“Probably every quarterback I’ve ever had at the start of camp has had some soreness,” Freeze said. “Just wanted to make sure it didn’t get any worse. There was never a time he couldn’t have gone and played. Just trying to make sure he’s totally healthy.”

Corner Daijahn Anthony has been out most of training camp and is still a couple weeks out from returning after having surgery on his meniscus. Wide receiver Khaleb Coleman had knee surgery during the offseason, no timetable has been given for his return. Running back Frank Boyd is fighting through a hamstring injury.

Several others have missed time on the practice field in recent days including defensive tackle Elijah James, safety Skyler Thomas, linebacker Aaron Pierre, corner Deon Biggins, and wide receiver Ahmad Jackson. Freeze said that James and Thomas should be ready for the Campbell game while Pierre is questionable for the season opener. There’s a chance Biggins could return to practice next week.

Last season, Liberty’s football program acted within a bubble for the entire season. Classes were attended virtually and all meals were had with the team. With classes resuming this week and Liberty’s campus bustling once again, the football team has again elected to operate out of a bubble type environment to begin this season.

“With this COVID thing, that’s taking a little toll on us right now, but we should have all those guys back before the first game,” Liberty wide receiver Demario Douglas said on Tuesday. “That’s what we’re focusing on right now, for this week, staying in a bubble, stay away from the outside so we can at least make it to the first game.”