We have concluded our position previews of Liberty’s offense, having already discussed the quarterbacks, running backs, offensive line, tight ends, and wide receivers. Be sure to go back and read those if you have not. Before we move to the offense, which we will do beginning Tuesday, today we will preview Liberty’s special teams.
Just like Liberty’s offense and defense, Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns has the luxury of returning his entire group of specialists this season. Kicker Alex Barbir, punter and holder Aidan Alves, long snapper Austin Mock, kick returner Shedro Louis, and punt returner Demario Douglas are all back. The Flames have also added several young specialists to the group as well as a couple transfers who could also factor into the return game.
K 95 Alex Barbir R-SR 5’10” 210
Barbir will forever be remembered in Liberty lore for his kick against Virginia Tech to win the game for the Flames, as well as some of his other clutch kicks during the 2020 season. Now, he enters the 2021 season as the presumed starter with his first full offseason in the program. He joined the team for spring practice last year, but with the onset of the COVID pandemic his spring was cut short. Then, as the team came back together in the summer and into fall camp, he had to be quarantined because his roommate had COVID. Barbir didn’t practice with the team until the week of Liberty’s first game against Western Kentucky.
Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns – “He proved he could make the clutch situations and he didn’t melt in those situations, which is good. Where he has to do a better job is the gimmes, the chip shots, 33 yarders, 28 yarders. That has to be points, we can’t afford to miss those.“
KO 90 Jason Stricker R-FR 6’2″ 180
Stricker has been with the Flames for the past two seasons and now he’s pushing Barbir for top kickoff duties this season.
Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns – “Jason Stricker has done an outstanding job in the offseason in strengthening his body. He’s kicking the ball off very well. Right now, he’s probably the leader if we had a game, he’d probably jog out there and kick the ball off for us and Barbir would be our starting field goal kicker.”/
P/H 46 Aidan Alves R-JR 6’1″ 205
Alves has settled in as Liberty’s punter and holder. After some early season struggles with consistency, he has become a steady force for the Flames in the punt game. He averaged 41.8 yards per punt on his 26 punts in 2020, which is right where Coach Burns wants his punter to be at his goal is 42.0 yards per punt.
LS 41 Austin Mock R-JR 6’2″ 245
Mock is quickly becoming the next in a line of great Liberty long snappers. Having his position solidified, is one less spot for Burns to have to worry about during camp.
Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns – “I don’t speak about him much because he does his job every day. The best long snapper is one you don’t know his name. That’s when he’s doing everything right and that’s what he’s been doing so far.”
KR 1 Shedro Louis SO 5’8″ 175
Shedro has proven his ability in both the kick return game and in the running back room. As a true freshman he had a kick returned for a touchdown, and last season he averaged 25.3 yards per return with a long of 51. Much of 2020, opposing teams avoided kicking to him because of his ability. That is likely to continue this season.
Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns – “He’s a dynamic player.“
PR 3 Demario Douglas R-FR 5’8″ 165
Demario Douglas became the mainstay for the Flames as a punt returner in 2020 and he provided another weapon for Coach Burns and this team. Douglas took one back to the house and it felt like he was a threat to score nearly every time he had a chance to make a return in 2020. He averaged 11.1 yards per punt return on his 15 returns last season.
Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns – “He’s as dynamic as I’ve ever been around, especially in the punt return game. He’s very elusive. He can make guys miss in the phone booth every day. You see it during practice. He’s very good. He’s comfortable back there catching balls. I look forward to changing some things up scheme wise to help with more big plays.”
Behind Douglas at punt returner, the Flames also have other options if needed in DJ Stubbs, Shedro Louis, or Duron Lowe.
At kick returner, the Flames could send a second returner back with Louis at times, especially if teams decide to kick it away from him. Top names to contend there include Lowe and Skyler Thomas.
Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns – “D-Lowe, Skyler Thomas, those are also returners who could be off-returners and if its kicked to them, we feel comfortable rolling with it. I know Shedro has one, I think D-Lowe has three. We have two guys with four touchdowns which is a good problem to have.””
K 36 Brayden Beck FR 6’1″ 185
K 42 Nick Brown FR 6’3″ 150
Beck and Brown are two walk-on kickers who joined the team this summer, and they have turned heads early.
Special Teams Coordinator Tanner Burns – “We’ve added a few young specialists. Early in camp they performed very well. The young guys especially, didn’t miss a kick until (Fan Appreciation Day). Barbir and the two young freshmen get reps. They are hitting the ball well. I’m excited about the guys we brought in. Freshmen coming in and competing for those jobs. That elevated the older guys knowing they can’t slip up in back to back days because these younger guys are coming for their roles.”