The Liberty Flames concluded the 2020 season at 10-1 with a program best ever ranking of No. 17 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll of the season. The Flames had wins over ACC programs Syracuse and Virginia Tech and knocked off nationally ranked and unbeaten, at the time, Coastal Carolina.
Head coach Hugh Freeze is entering his third season as the Flames’ head football coach, and he has a very talented roster at his disposal as Liberty looks to advance to a third straight bowl game.
Based on how the roster looks now, here’s a look at the players who will determine how successful Liberty is in 2021, presented in no particular order…
Quarterback Malik Willis
This one’s easy. Malik’s ascension as Liberty’s quarterback in 2020 is the biggest reason the Flames had the success they had in 2020. He led the team in rushing with 944 yards and 14 touchdowns in 10 games played. That stat line might not be surprising if we were asked back in September, but it was his ability to impact the game with his arm as well that pushed the Flames over the top. He completed 64.2% of his 265 passes for 2,260 yards, 20 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. And this was in his first season as a starting quarterback at the collegiate level. The sky is the limit for Willis, and he could be a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy if he is able to take his game to another level and lead the Flames to a season where Liberty is in the top 25 for the duration of the year.
Wide receiver CJ Yarbrough
As good as Willis and the Liberty offense was in 2020, the Flames did so without a true outside threat at receiver that was healthy all season. CJ Yarbrough can be that receiver that helps takes this offense and the passing game to another level. The redshirt-freshman played in 7 games, but was not 100% for many, if any of those games. He finished with 17 receptions for 268 yards and a touchdown.
Running back TJ Green
The Utah transfer was singled out by ESPN as being the breakout player for the Flames next season. The 5-11, 200-pound transfer running back from Utah, can affect the game in all phases. Alongside Joshua Mack and Malik Willis, Liberty’s rushing attack could be one of the best in the nation again in 2021.
Linebacker Rashaad Harding
After Anthony Butler’s decision to forego the 2021 season and enter the NFL Draft, Harding becomes a needed piece at linebacker for the Flames in 2021. The ULM transfer sat out the 2020 season due to COVID concerns and entered the transfer portal in mid-September. In 2019, he had 60 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks and 2 pass breakups.
Cornerback Duron Lowe
Liberty found a diamond in the rough in Kei’Trel Clarke who was a late addition to the 2019 signing class. In Clark, the Flames had a shutdown corner in the fold for four years, but prior to the 2020 season he decided to transfer to Louisville. While the Flames’ corners were solid in 2020, Liberty could certainly utilize the skills of UTEP transfer Duron Lowe. Lowe has one season of eligibility remaining and joins the Flames after being a shutdown corner for the Conference USA program in 2019 and 2020 starting 18 of 19 games those two seasons.
Defensive end Durrell Johnson
Johnson came in and was able to solidify the Flames’ defensive front after Jessie Lemonier went on to the NFL. Johnson led the team with 11.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks as he was named an all-american in his first season in Lynchburg. His playmaking ability helps the Liberty defense compete as one of the better Group of Five units in the country.