For Liberty’s receivers, it’s a tale of two different stories. On the inside, the Flames are as deep and talented as any position on the team, something that has been the case since Hugh Freeze took over as head coach prior to the 2019 season. On the outside, Liberty has had a difficult time transitioning to life after NFL Draft pick Antonio Gandy-Golden.
DJ Stubbs returns as a super senior following a 2020 season where he led the team with 38 receptions and 523 yards. The explosive and shifty slot receiver provides valuable experience for the Flames at the position. Combined with Demario Douglas, Liberty’s inside receivers are a talented pair. Douglas was second on the team with 32 receptions in 2020 and finish third with 363 yards.
Like Stubbs, Douglas has the ability to take the ball to the house any time he touches it. The more opportunities those two can have on the field this fall, the better and more explosive Malik Willis and the Flames’ offense will be.
Injuries and unexpected defections have hurt Liberty’s outside receivers since AGG was drafted by the Washington Football Team in the 4th round of the 2020 NFL Draft. CJ Yarbrough was expected to be his heir apparent, and he had a solid 2020 campaign when on the field. Yarbrough played in 7 games as he fought through injuries and finished with 17 receptions for 268 yards and 1 touchdown, but he has elected to opt out of spring practice, and the likelihood of his return in the fall diminishes as the weeks pass.
With Yarbrough likely out of the picture moving forward, Noah Frith steps into a leadership role on the outside. Frith, also nagged by injuries in 2020, had 16 receptions for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns in 6 games played last season. He has provided Willis with sure hands and the ability to win his one-on-one matchup in most situations. Frith will be counted on to continue in that role, and expanding his impact, in 2021.
The Flames picked up a huge boost on the outside from North Texas transfer Austin Ogunmakin. The 6’3″ receiver has three seasons of eligibility remaining, and he will be counted on to make an immediate impact. In 10 games last season, Ogunmakin caught 23 passes for 349 yards and 1 touchdown, finishing third on the team in both receptions and receiving yards. He finished the season with 7 receptions for 131 yards and a score in the Myrtle Beach Bowl against Appalachian State.
JUCO transfer Jaivian Lofton joined Liberty prior to the 2020 season, and the hope was that he would help soften the loss of AGG. Like Yarbrough and Frith, Lofton also suffered through an injury plagued season as he only played in 5 games while making 3 receptions for 51 yards. If he stays healthy, Lofton could develop into an outside threat for the Flames.
Other names to watch on the outside include Stetson Moore, Khaleb Coleman, and Ahmad Jackson. Moore’s natural position is tight end, but he could be utilized at receiver if needed. Coleman has had an injury plagued Liberty career, and he just finished a no contact spring. Jackson was a true freshman in 2020 who saw limited playing time.
Kevin Shaa is another super senior that returns for the Flames in 2021. He played in all 11 games last season, making 9 starts, and finished with 25 receptions for 450 yards and a team-leading 4 receiving touchdowns. Shaa is best utilized in the slot, but with Stubbs and Douglas holding that position down, he has been used on the outside frequently.
Similarly, CJ Daniels has been a utility type receiver who has played in the slot and on the outside. The sure-handed Daniels played in all 11 games as a true freshman last year, even making two starts, as he finished with 11 receptions for 220 yards and 3 touchdowns. He was frequently used in red zone opportunities where he was able to make a big impact.
True freshman Kylen Austin joined the Flames this spring, and he got a lot of reps, primarily on the outside. Like Daniels and Shaa, Austin is probably better suited to play on the inside, but he could make a push for time at outside receiver if Liberty’s receivers have to fight through the injury bug once again. Brody Brumm and Treon Sibley bring experience to the room, and they could fill in at times if needed.
“We’ve got a ways to go with outside guys,” Freeze said earlier this spring before the addition of Ogunmakin. “We’ve got to get more consistent in winning our one-on-ones there. Noah’s solid, Lofton has had some up and down practices, we need more out of Sibley or Ahmad. CJ Daniels has been solid, but he has been hampered by injury too. That room has been a little beat up, so it’s really hard for me to have an accurate evaluation right now.”