It is a special edition of the Liberty football notes this week with it being Thanksgiving today (Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, by the way). Coach Freeze was asked about his favorite memories and traditions from Thanksgiving while growing up.
“My Thanksgiving on the farm where I was raised was happy,” he said. “Everybody, all your cousins, and all of us sat at the little table until we got big enough to move to the big table. The uncles and aunts and everything, the turkey and dressing and the rolls, and all the good food. Then, the tradition after Thanksgiving was over, we hit the front yard and played tackle football, all of us. It was always a blast until we got bigger and it started hurting a little more. Our uncles used to do it with us for a while and it was always a blast getting family together. It was always a special time for my entire family.”
“It has definitely changed since I’ve entered the college coaching world. My parents were here this past weekend along with Jill’s and we had Thanksgiving Friday night at our house before I went to the hotel for team meetings. My mom brought her dressing, Jill cooked some things, we had our family there with all my daughters who are back in town. That was good. Thanksgiving in college coaching you are with your football family and I love doing that also.”
No cranberry sauce for Coach Freeze, as he said he is not a fan, but he loves the dressing, cream corn, and butter beans. What will be on your plate today?
Liberty will honor its senior class during a pregame ceremony on Saturday against Army as part of its annual Senior Day festivities. This senior class has a mix of backgrounds from those who have been here for six seasons dating back to the Flames’ time as an FCS program under former head coach Turner Gill when FBS was just a dream to those who transferred in just in the past year under Hugh Freeze.
Regardless of how long they have been in the program, this class has helped lay the foundation for the Flames at the FBS level. They saw the program through the transition in classification as well as through a coaching transition. The group has had incredible highs including the first ever wins for Liberty over Power Five teams in Baylor, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech. They have also been a part of the program’s first ever bowl appearances and bowl wins, as well as the ground-breaking 2020 season where the Flames won 10 games and finished ranked in the final Associated Press and Coaches Top 25 polls.
“These seniors have really made this program relevant,” Freeze said earlier this week about this group. “It’s going to be sad to say goodbye to a lot of those. They deserve to go out the right way, and hopefully everyone in this building understands that and will prepare accordingly to play a good football team in Army.”
Seniors to be honored will be: Benjamin Alexander, Damian Bounds, Frank Boyd, Jake Brickell, William Green, Rashaad Harding, Trevor Hobbs, Johnny Huntley, Storey Jackson, Elijah James, Andrew Johns, Duron Lowe, Joshua Mack, Bryce Mathews, Cade Robinson, Boyd Rogish, Ralfs Rusins, Thomas Sargeant, Tristan Schultz, Kevin Shaa, Tyron Staples, Cedric Stone, DJ Stubbs, Skyler Thomas, and Malik Willis.
COULD THIS BE MALIK WILLIS’ FINAL HOME GAME?
Yes, Malik Willis’ name is included on that list of seniors. Due to the COVID pandemic, the 2020 season did not count against anyone’s eligibility, and Willis has an extra year of eligibility should he intend to use it and come back to Liberty for the 2022 season. However, the talented quarterback has been and is still currently being projected as a likely first round NFL draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. If that projection continues, it is likely that he opts to forego his final season of eligibility and enter his name into the NFL Draft.
“We’re going to support Malik and his family in whatever they decide,” Freeze said. “Certainly, they will gather all the facts when this season is over, and make what they think is the best decision for them. We will support them when that time comes.”
Willis transferred to Liberty prior to the 2019 season which he had to sit out due to NCAA transfer requirements at the time. He has since taken over as QB1 for the Flames over the past two seasons where he has thrown for over 4,600 yards and 44 touchdowns while rushing for nearly 2,000 yards and another 24 touchdowns. More than those stats, he has helped guide the Flames to unprecedented success, going 16-5 as a starting quarterback at Liberty, guiding the program to a 10-win season in 2020, a national ranking, and marquee wins over Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and a nationally ranked and unbeaten Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl.
“He has brought a lot of excitement with the other seniors and players that have helped make this program more relevant,” Freeze continued about his signal-caller. “It’s not just him, but obviously watching a talent like him, that doesn’t happen all the time. We certainly hope to recruit some more that are like him so that we can continue winning and going to bowl games and ultimately winning a conference championship in a few years. In the meantime, I sure hope that all of our people and fans send our seniors out with great gratitude. Malik is a big part of that for sure and he is a special talent.”
Coming off the bye week, Liberty was as healthy as it has been all season entering the Louisiana game. The only players that were unable to play last week were safety Quinton Reese and defensive lineman Micaiah Overton who are out for the remainder of the season.
Practice was closed to the media this week, so we were unable to see if any players were missing from the open portions of practice. The only player that was noticeably injured during the game against Louisiana was safety and team captain Javon Scruggs who did not play in the second half. On Wednesday, Freeze said that Scruggs would likely be a game-time decision.
“He’s seeing the doctors this afternoon and we will see what that report comes back,” Freeze said of Scruggs on Monday. “It is concerning for sure. He is one of our leaders. We are already down Quinton at safety. You certainly need somebody who knows what they’re doing back there to adjust to everything we’ve got to see this week. We shuffled some people around today in walk-through, but hopefully we will get good news on him but it is concerning.”