LIBERTY LB STOREY JACKSON SUFFERING THROUGH THE SUDDEN LOSS OF HIS MOM
Liberty starting linebacker Storey Jackson, who transferred into the program prior to the start of the 2021 season, is dealing with the sudden and tragic loss of his mom this past week. Jackson, as well as several Liberty coaches and players, traveled with him for the funeral on Monday.
“Pray with us for Storey Jackson,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said on Monday. “He lost his mom suddenly. It has just been a terrible week. Just shocking news. They are having the funeral today. We’ve got several staff members that are there and players. Just pray for him as he is dealing with this tragedy.”
COACHING STAFF REUNION
There will be a coaching staff reunion in Mobile this week. RJ Fleming is currently on staff at Eastern Michigan as wide receivers coach. He played his collegiate ball at Arkansas State under Hugh Freeze for a couple of seasons. He then joined the Flames on staff as an offensive quality control coach when Freeze was hired prior to the 2019 season. Fleming was with the Flames for two seasons before getting promoted with Eastern Michigan prior to the 2021 season.
Freeze and Eastern Michigan head coach Chris Creighton have also become friends over the years. They each have a mutual friend in current Indiana head coach Tom Allen.
“The initial introduction came when I hired Tom Allen at Lambuth,” said Freeze. “That was the first time I hired him, got him out of high school. He and Chris were really good friends. Then Chris hired him at Drake after I left Lambuth to go to San Jose with Mac MacIntyre. I didn’t stay there very long, went to Arkansas State and re-hired Tom from Drake. I’ve had a lot of dealings with him because of that connection. We get together every year we have that AFCA deal that they ask us to come to for head coaches meetings. Typically, him, myself, Tom, Gus (Malzahn), a few others try to get together right before that just to kind of talk about the state of our game because I think we all kind of have the same mindset of what coaching is really about. Hopefully we remind each other. He’s always got great wisdom when we sit in those meetings. Think he’s a heck of a guy and great coach.”
Additionally, Saturday’s game will be played on the campus of South Alabama where Kane Wommack is the head coach of the Jaguars. Wommack was a grad assistant under Freeze at Ole Miss his first two seasons in Oxford. Wommack just completed his first season at South Alabama. When he was first hired, he brought Corey Batoon in as his defensive coordinator. Batoon has coached with Freeze at Arkansas State, Ole Miss, and for the 2020 season at Liberty.
FIRST EVER BOWL APPEARANCES
While Liberty will be making its third consecutive appearance in a bowl game, there is a group of the team’s players who have never played in or traveled to a bowl game that will be making their first trip this week. Even those that made the trip to the 2020 Cure Bowl didn’t get the full bowl experience due to the COVID pandemic. Many student-athletes will have first ever bowl experiences this week for the Flames.
“Some of our kids have never experienced that before,” Freeze said of having players make their first trip to a bowl game. “I love seeing the faces on the kids. Like Daijahn Anthony caught me, ‘Coach, I can’t wait. I’ve never played in a bowl game before.’ He will get to experience all that. That’s why we do all this in college football. It’s why bowl season is probably one of the greatest months of sporting events that there is.”
In bowl games, many times the team that wins isn’t always the better team, but the team that is more motivated to play in and win the game. After playing in the program’s first ever bowl game in 2019 and then knocking off previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Coastal Carolina in 2020, Liberty’s motivation for this week’s bowl game could be in question. Is the team motivated for the game?
“I worry about this team, period,” Freeze said when asked about the team’s motivation. “We are a good team and we won games and we’re bowl eligible, and we should celebrate that always, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t feel like I pulled the right switches or found the right button to hit to get us to click on all cylinders. That’s not something that sits extremely well with me. That is motivating for me. To say that I would sit here and not worry about just our team in general. We’ve had a tendency not to have complete focus or we’ve just been off in our operations. Whether it’s one guy, whether it’s two guys, and it just kills a drive or kills a play or gives them a touchdown pass. I’m determined that we’re going to play better in this bowl game.”
PLAYER OPT OUTS
A theme around college football in recent seasons has been players electing to opt out of their team’s bowl game and not play as they prepare for the NFL. There has been some rumors of certain Liberty players not playing in the Lending Tree Bowl, but none have officially stated they aren’t playing. Running back Joshua Mack announced on his social media accounts that he was declaring for the NFL, but he did not clearly state whether or not he will play in the bowl game. However, Mack did not make the trip with the team to Mobile. Earlier this week, Coach Freeze was asked about the opt outs.
“I would be so disappointed if one of our players, I don’t care what your status is, whether you’re a first round pick or headed into the work force, I don’t understand that thinking,” said Freeze. “I guess they could turn it on me and say well head coaches leave and go to other jobs and don’t finish. I don’t know. I don’t claim to have all of the answers, but I wish they would let me get on a committee with a few other coaches. I think we could help solve some of this craziness. Maybe there ought to be a hiring season that you can’t hire a coach until they are able to finish with their durn team. I don’t understand. I think we are headed down the road of some things that are not great for our sport.”
After a few weeks off, the Flames are fairly healthy entering the bowl game. The coaching staff said they are as healthy as they have been since early in the year. Only one player is in danger of missing the game and that is nose guard Ralfs Rusins who injured his knee against Army.
“It just makes you sick when you talk about injuries, particularly with a kid that has been such a stud for us as Ralf has,” Freeze said. “He comes from overseas, learns to speak English, goes through his time here, gets his masters plus degree, loves this team. It doesn’t look good that he will be able to play. I just hate that for him.”