The rain from Friday night gave way for a beautiful day on Liberty Mountain for the Flames’ Spring Game at Williams Stadium in Lynchburg, Virginia. It was the first chance the fan base has had the chance to watch the defending 2023 Conference USA Champions since the Vrbo Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona.

“A lot of positives to take out of it,” head coach Jamey Chadwell said following the game. “We did have some injuries through it that we will have to see if we can get some of those guys back as we get later in the season. We stayed healthy through it for the most part. Now, once we get through the spring break we will have opportunities to work on some areas that we have to improve on. You can always improve on the knowledge of your system, but just technique and some things we’ve got to improve on. If we are going to be the type of program we want to be and be in contention for championships every year, fundamentals and techniques have to be our cornerstone. Those are the things we have to continue to improve.”

There was a traditional football game played with two 15 minute quarters in the first half and then two 10-minute quarters with a running clock in the second half. All of the action went towards one end zone headed towards the Liberty locker room and coaches offices as fans were allowed to gather in the end zone at the opposite side of the stadium.

The defense won the first half, 38-10, in a unique scoring system, and then the offense walked off with the win, 20-15, in the second half thanks to a Jayden Bradford touchdown pass.

The game started with a 60-yard touchdown pass from Kaidon Salter to new Liberty wide receiver Tyson Mobley. The Coastal Carolina transfer was wide open after a busted assignment from the defense and he was able to walk into the end zone.

That was the start of a very good spring game from Liberty’s quarterback as Salter enters the 2024 campaign as the unquestioned starter. He completed 4 of 7 passes for 91 yards and the one touchdown. He only rushed two times for 13 yards. Quarterbacks were whistled down on the first contact with a defender, limiting the signal callers ability to run for significant yardage.

“We were all impressed with Kaidon,” Chadwell said of his quarterback this spring. “From last spring to the end of the season, obviously tremendous improvement, but there were things he needed to improve on from timing to leadership. This spring he did a really nice job of that. I thought he took control of our team in practices and showing up every day and being consistent. That’s the key from a quarterback, if your quarterback is consistent every day in his attitude and what he brings to the table, then your team has the ability to do the same thing. He did a nice job of that. Pleased with how he improved himself, pleased with how he improved his leadership, but also how he mentored the younger quarterbacks. Three brand new quarterbacks and he did a nice job leading them.”

Nate Hampton was the second quarterback to take to the field, leading the second team offense. He struggled on the day, failing to complete a pass in his six registered pass attempts. He did have a 12 yard running play to convert a first down.

Appalachian State quarterback Ryan Burger was the third quarterback on the field, joining the first team for its third drive of the game after Salter led the first unit on the first two drives. Burger had a nice game and showcased his mobility. He completed 3 of 6 passes for 36 yards including a touchdown pass to Treon Sibley on a nicely placed ball. He also rushed five times for 14 yards.

“Any time you are new, you are trying to learn your way and learn your system,” Chadwell said of Burger, who was named the most improved player at the quarterback position for the spring. “From 1-15, he did a nice job of improving each week in understanding. Him being in college before definitely helps. He understands college practice, he understands how to prepare himself. He really made a lot of strides from 1-15 that we felt like he improved more, not that they all didn’t. I thought they all improved. You saw with those other quarterbacks, Jayden in particular, Jayden’s got some ability as well. We are excited about the quarterback crew behind Kaidon and Nate. Ryan did a really nice job from 1-15. Fought through some illness, he was sick when he first started. Fought through that and did a nice job of getting better. Also, I think putting himself in a position where guys view him as could be a potential leader for our team.”

Liberty true freshman and early enrollee Jayden Bradford had a strong game as well. He finished by completing 4 of 6 pass attempts for 48 yards and the touchdown to conclude the scrimmage. He also rushed for 12 yards on five attempts. The former IMG Academy standout did lose a fumble as he scrambled looking to make a play and defensive end Larry Jones, III was able to fall on it for the defense.

“Jayden is very intelligent,” Chadwell said of Bradford. “He’s coming in not like a typical guy because he understands offensive quarterback, he understands plays, systems, he knows our system pretty good already as a young guy which is hard to do, truthfully. We’ve been really pleased and impressed with that. As you can see, he has a nice calmness to him in the pocket. Today, he stays in there, he goes through reads and he can make some plays with people. He’s got a chance to be a really good player. He’s got a lot of learning to do, still, and growing and gotta get stronger. Excited about him and his future. He showed some of his ability today. As he continues to grow and get stronger, then he will continue to be better.”

Walk-on quarterback Miles McEachin added a nice 28 yard run that could have gone much further if he was allowed to run through contact.

Several players made contributions at receiver and out of the backfield, as the coaching staff freely made substitutions at these positions throughout the scrimmage.

On defense, the Flames made solid plays, and defensive end TJ Bush was a standout. The defensive unit would have been credited with several sacks if they were able to complete the play.

“We were very vanilla defensively (today),” Chadwell said, “(This spring), we did a lot of different things we wanted to see, whether that was things we wanted to see from last year that we were good at or not good at, and did some other things, maybe new schemes, maybe new adjustments. We made a lot of progress. I think we have a chance to be an overall better defense. We lost some really good players up there, especially in the secondary. It’s going to be hard for us to replace that with one guy, we are going to have to do that by committee. That is our biggest question mark is the guys that we did lose there, can we replace that. I do think with our recruiting and the people that we added during high school recruiting and also during this last portal recruiting, that we brought in some guys that are going to help us. I think we improved some depth in a lot of areas. Now, it’s just getting guys better at technique, understanding what their roles are. I do think we are going to be better there.”

A position we will continue to watch into training camp is at kicker. The three kickers rotated their duties through the afternoon on Saturday. Nick Brown was 1 for 2 on his field goals, missing a 40 yarder wide right and splitting the uprights on a 39-yard attempt.

North Greenville transfer kicker Colin Karhu made both of his extra point attempts and doinked a 35 yard field goal try off the left upright. Brayden Beck made both of his kick attempts, a 35 and 34 yard field goal, respectively.

At halftime, Coach Chadwell took to the microphone and announced the team’s most improved players at each of the position groups:
QB – Ryan Burger
RB – Kyle Hanks
WR – Darius Copeland
OL – Hunter Porterfield
TE – Caleb Ryan
DL – TJ Bush
OLB – CJ Bazile
LB – Jahmar Brown
S – Eli Auguste
CB – Christian Bodnar
Specialist – Ryan Manis (also announced he was put on scholarship)

*all stats are unofficial