At 5’8″, 165 pounds, Liberty wide receiver Demario Douglas may be small in stature, but the impact he has made on the field for the Flames this season is anything but small.

The redshirt-freshman from Mandarin High School in Jacksonville, Florida, is currently ranked as the No. 1 wide receiver in the country by Pro Football Focus with a 92.8 grade through the first six games of the season. Douglas leads the team with 33 receptions for 526 yards and is tied with fellow wide receiver CJ Daniels for the team lead in touchdown receptions with four. To say Douglas has become potential first round NFL Draft pick Malik Willis’ favorite target would be putting it lightly as the next highest receiver on the team has half of his production with 14 receptions for 268 yards.

For the second straight week, Douglas has set a career high for receiving yards in a game with his 156 yards this past Saturday against Middle Tennessee, doing all the work in the first half as he left the game early with an ankle injury. It was his third career 100 yard receiving game and helped him eclipse the 1,000 career receiving yard mark as he now totals 1,025 yards on 74 receptions in 21 games.

He took advantage of two recent NCAA rulings, allowing him to still be classified as a freshman despite being in his third year in the program. His first year at Liberty, in 2019, he played in just four games and was able to redshirt thanks to a new NCAA rule which allows football players to play in up to four games in a season and preserve their season of eligibility. Amid the COVID pandemic last season, the NCAA will not count that year of eligibility against any Division I FBS football players.

Call him a third-year freshman, call him a redshirt-sophomore, one thing is for certain, Demario Douglas is a playmaker. After playing in four games as a true freshman in 2019 when he had nine receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown, Douglas broke onto the scene in 2020 first as a punt returner.

He finished last season ranked No. 9 in the country with 11.1 yards per punt return, and Douglas was named a FWAA Freshman All-American as a punt returner and named VaSID all-state first team. He also began to showcase his talents as a receiver, finishing second on the team with 32 receptions and three touchdowns to go with his 373 receiving yards.

“We believed in him since day one on the campus,” Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze said. “His work ethic is incredible. I don’t know that he had to do anything but just get the opportunities because he prepares the way you are supposed to prepare. When others come in and want to have a conversation with me about what do I need to do, I say prepare like Demario does every practice. His preparation, along with his talent. When I am teaching our themes, like I taught the one (Monday), you don’t win the game or you don’t catch that number of balls on Saturday, you won it back on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday when you prepared. No one prepares any better than he does.”

Douglas says he gets that work ethic from his mom who helped raise him and his two younger brothers. Alongside four additional siblings on his dad’s side, Demario is the oldest of seven and he prides himself on being a role model to his brothers and sisters.

“I get a lot of (my work ethic) from my mom,” he said. “I’ve seen her do the impossible. The times we didn’t have it, she made it happen. She really pushes me, so I won’t stop until I can get her to stop working.”

Douglas flashed onto the scene in high school at Mandarin High where he helped lead the team to the state championship in 2018. He finished his senior year with 1,700 all-purpose yards and 1,300 yards receiving to go along with 18 touchdowns. He also set a state title game record with four receiving touchdowns.

That got the attention of college recruiters, and Douglas picked up offers from numerous schools including UAB and Liberty. He would ultimately choose to sign with the Flames and be a part of Hugh Freeze’s first recruiting class at Liberty.

Playing in only four of Liberty’s 13 games his first season on campus, it was a slow adjustment for the talented receiver. He says wide receivers coach Maurice Harris made a huge impact in him and helped Douglas gain confidence in himself.

“My freshman year, I wasn’t playing, so I sat down with Coach Harris,” Douglas recalled. “He broke it down to me, that’s what I needed. No freshman wants to come in and be redshirted. He sat down with me and explained it. Coach Harris, he’s a big part of my life, honestly, right now because his confidence in me just gave me great confidence.”

As 2019 continued, Douglas become more confident in himself and comfortable in the Liberty offense. He got playing time in the final two games of the season, against New Mexico State and in the Cure Bowl against Georgia Southern. He would record four catches for 47 yards in those two games, saying that the bowl game proved to himself and the coaching staff that he could be a reliable offensive weapon.

Douglas has always had a strong work ethic, and he has learned how to apply that to being one of the hardest workers on the team. Whether it’s putting extra work in on the practice field, the weight room, or in watching film, Douglas has learned what it takes to compete at the highest level.

“I love watching film,” said Douglas. “I love watching football. Like two weeks ago, (Coach Harris) asked me, ‘Did you go lift weights?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘Do you want to go the NFL? That’s what I’m talking about, the extra work, that’s what’s going to get you there.’ I always had that, but Coach Harris pushes me.”

That work ethic has helped Douglas become Liberty’s top receiving target, and one of the most explosive players in all of college football. It could help get him to the next level, as well.

“Seeing my mom, my grandma, they’re still working, working hard to get my little brothers every where they want to go,” Douglas said. “It’s my why. My family and the people that support me, that’s my drive. Every time I get on the field or do something, I think about them. I have to. I want to. Every time I do something, I have a why.”