The Liberty Flames had their 15th and final spring practice on Thursday, bringing an end to the first spring practice session of the Hugh Freeze era.
“For me, it was very enjoyable,” Freeze said after practice Thursday. “I can’t remember a spring I enjoyed more. Now, we’re nowhere near where we need to be or where we want to be, but they were a joy to coach. Their attitudes were incredible, their work ethic was really good every day. I can think of very few moments where I thought we’re not giving effort. I coached them hard, and they responded to it.”
Ever since he was hired, Freeze has emphasized the importance of pushing every member of his coaching staff and every member of the team to the next level and to not grow complacent with their current status.
“There’s still tons of things we wished we were better at,” Freeze explained, “But it starts with us getting deeper and getting some more bodies here for fall camp which we will do with the recruits that are not here. That will help us some, hopefully, if nothing else, for competitiveness.”
Freeze highlighted the offensive line as the position he was most pleased with during the spring. The Flames return 3 of 5 starters up front, highlighted by right guard Dontae Duff who has made 34 consecutive starts for the Flames. 3-star JUCO transfer Maisen Knight is expected to challenge for playing time at left tackle when he arrives on campus.
“I think that is the hardest position to fill on FBS rosters,” Freeze said of the offensive line. “I think there’s probably only a few teams that look at their roster and say, ‘Ok, we’re 2-deep and we’re better than most of the D-Lines we play. Typically, it’s just not the case for 90% of FBS. I don’t care what conference you’re in, typically the D-Line are tougher matchups for O-Linemen. You may be happy with 3 of your O-Linemen and now you’re trying to piece it together around those, but I’ve been really pleased with the O-Line.”
Wide receiver Johnny Huntley, who transferred to Liberty from Colorado a year ago and sat out the 2018 season due to NCAA transfer requirements, was moved to tight end early in spring ball. He gives the Flames a more athletic tight end that can make plays downfield in the passing game. Alongside Chris Barrett and Jerome Jackson, Huntley gives Liberty 3 capable tight ends. Zac Foutz missed the early part of spring ball due to injury and then missed the end of the spring due to legal trouble, but Freeze says he likes to have 4 guys on the roster at tight end – 2 that are athletic pass-catchers and 2 that are more “hand on the ground” types.
“Size is for sure a good fit,” Freeze said of Huntley’s move to tight end. “He’s not used to maybe playing in the box as much. I’ve had Evan Engram and some others in my previous stops that were kind of like that, and we were able to function with it. I think, in time, he’s going to be very good for that spot.”
Defensive line is a position Freeze has mentioned frequently throughout the spring as one that is thin. The Flames will welcome 5 signees to campus to help beef up the defensive front. Three JUCO transfers will join the fray at tackle as 3-stars Elijah James and William Green, Jr and 2-star Devonte Lloyd will immediately provide some depth. At defensive end, the Flames are anchored by Austin Lewis and Jesse Lemonier who both made an impression on the coaching staff this spring.
“Jesse may play as hard as any kid I’ve ever had,” Freeze said of Lemonier, who led the Flames’ in sacks a season ago. “Every play is 100 mph and wide open. That’s what we have to have in effort, he doesn’t get talked about near enough.”
Freeze also highlighted the secondary as a position that has improved greatly during the spring. Javon Scruggs was moved from corner to safety and looks to be fighting for a starting spot there. Bejour Wilson and JUCO transfer and January enrollee Emanuel Dabney have both made strides at corner. Dabney is originally from Jackson, Mississippi and attended Hinds Community College.
“I’m a glass half-full guy,” Freeze stated. “I’m just encouraged of the buy-in. You come in and you take over a program that was coached by one of the finest men in coaching in Coach Gill (who was on hand for Thursday’s final spring practice), and you’re never quite sure because I’m probably a little bit different. I’m more hands on, I think. Sometimes kids don’t quite know how to take it when the head coach is right on as soon as the play is over and try to demand something and wanting answers. I think they received it well.”