This Saturday when Liberty takes the field against Troy, it will be on the 20th anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze and defensive coordinator Scott Symons shared their emotions of that day.
“I hope that there is still enough of the core of Americans that understand what really happened that day, I hope so,” Freeze said. “I hope we never forget that. I remember vividly where I was. I was a high school football coach at Briarcrest Christian School. I was also the Dean of Students. My mornings usually were filled with being in the Dean of Students office for student discipline and stuff. The head of our school at that time was a guy by the name of Steve Simpson, he came and got me and I went in his office and just sat in silence with him in an unbelievable, just couldn’t believe what was happening as we watched it unfold right there on TV. The shock that our nation is under attack right here on our own soil. That was certainly sad. So many families had tragedy hit them that day. Obviously America responded and defended her honor. I hope that is all remembered that day. There was tragedy, but America is resilient. I think there is a story probably to be told on both sides of that.”
Coach Symons was a sophomore in high school at Fort Worth Christian School in Texas and he recalls watching the events unfold on TV, but it was a little bit more personal as his dad was in Washington, D.C. that day on a business trip.
“He was staying a block from the Pentagon,” Symons recalled of his dad. “It was kind of panic, couldn’t get a hold of him because all the cell lines and everything I guess. It took a couple hours for my mom to get a hold of him. Then, they had to drive home from DC to Texas. I don’t know if words can describe (my emotions that day). We are sitting there watching that as it took place, just sitting there and seeing the images of all the people that passed and what a tragedy it was for our country. (My) generation, it had a huge impact, and obviously all the soldiers we sent then that have fought and died for our country since then. It’s always a day that should be forever sacred in our country to remember all those that were lost on that day.”
Hopes were high entering this season for Liberty kicker Alex Barbir after he was the team’s hero on a couple of occasions in 2020, including the memorable game-winning kick at Virginia Tech. Barbir struggled with consistency in his first season with the program, but he got better as the year progressed. In the season opener this past week against Campbell, Barbir missed two kicks – an extra point and a 41-yard field goal. When asked about the missed kicks, Freeze did not hold back.
“I’m not good at coaching kickers,” Freeze said on Monday. “I just know I told him at halftime, I’ve had enough. I don’t want to ever see it again, this idea of let’s half way chip shot it, whatever it was, I don’t care. I’m all for playing the next play. If you make a mistake, that’s fine. I’m not afraid of mistakes, but not seizing an opportunity and going after it. I told him, hit the thing as hard as you can. I don’t care, if you miss it, you miss it, but I have had enough seeing this whatever that was on those two, these let me guide it in there. I can’t operate that way. I hope he listened. It looked like the second half he swung at it. I want that to be the standard operation moving forward. Man, swing the thing, hit it, let’s see what happens.”
Defensive depth improved
Frequently during the game against Campbell, Liberty’s defense rotated guys in throughout the individual drives for the Camels. Especially on the defensive line and at linebacker, the Flames played several players in one sequence. At linebacker, Liberty played five linebackers throughout much of the first half the game, something Coach Symons says he plans on happening most weeks. This is in stark contrast to the 2020 team when linebackers like Anthony Butler and Aaron Pierre would frequently play nearly every defensive snap.
“I don’t know who’s going to start this week,” he said. “I’m going to evaluate it based on the game film, based on how they practice. I know I’m going to play five guys and find a role for those guys, but we believe in competition. When you have depth, competition is really important. You’ve got guys pushing each other to be the best, to be consistent, to have good practice habits.”
Looking to improve pass rush
Last season, Liberty’s defensive line excelled in their ability to get into the opponent’s backfield and cause havoc, especially on the opponent’s quarterback. Led by Durrell Johnson and TreShaun Clark, the Flames have several talented pass rushers that can come off the edge and create pressure. This was not the case in the season opener last week against Campbell as Liberty failed to record a sack against the FCS team, but that had a lot to do with the defensive game plan.
“I wasn’t pleased with the pressure, but I put that as much on us as coaches as I do on our kids,” Coach Symons said. “We wanted to keep (Hajj-Malik Williams) in the pocket and make him a thrower first. We really wanted to keep him in the pocket as best we could. I think that hurt our DLine a little bit there, but we’ve got to get better pressure on the quarterback this week. With a great quarterback, if he can sit back there all day long, it’s going to be a long game for us. Hopefully that is an area we can improve on this week.”
- Safety Juawan Treadwell, defensive end Durrell Johnson and starting right tackle Cooper McCaw were not at practice Tuesday. Freeze said that McCaw is doubtful. There has been no official update on Treadwell or Johnson.
- With McCaw unlikely to play, Jonathan Graham could make his first career start at right tackle. If Johnson us unable to go, look for Aakil Washington to make his first career start at defensive end.
- Corner Daijahn Anthony, who suffered a meniscus injury early in training camp, returned to practice this week and he is expected to be available for Saturday’s game at Troy where he could factor into the rotation.
- Wide receiver Noah Frith is fighting his way back from an injured right hand where he had surgery on a bone in that hand a few weeks ago. He returned to practice this week and is expected to make his season debut on Saturday.
- Damian Bounds, who started at LG in the season opener against Campbell, is questionable for Saturday’s game at Troy with a high ankle sprain. If he is unable to go, Jacob Bodden will get the start. Bodden and Bounds went back and forth during camp as the starter at the spot.
- WR Jaivian Lofton (knee) is questionable for Saturday’s game.
- CB Marcus Haskins (hamstring) is doubtful.
- Corner Deon Biggins was back at practice this week after missing some time with a hamstring injury.
- Offensive lineman Bryce Mathews was listed as day to day on Monday by Coach Freeze with a knee injury suffered against Campbell. He was at practice earlier this week and he is good to go for the Troy game.