The Liberty football team took to the practice field this morning as they officially open their 2016 season. Since practice is closed to the public, we can only go off what the coaches and players say afterward. Here are some of the main notes and quotes from today’s media availability.
Coach Gill opened by saying, “it was great to see my sons, all 93 of ’em.”
Stephon Masha is the starting quarterback.
That hasn’t changed. Gill spoke very highly of his new starting QB, “Stephon looked sharp for the first day out. I’m glad to see he’s accustomed to running our offense.” The biggest thing Masha has improved on during the off-season is his confidence.
The other 3 quarterbacks on the roster are all true freshmen – Rudiger Yearick, Buckshot Calvert, and Spencer Jones. They’re still trying to just get their feet wet while Masha is entering his 4th year with the program. Masha said he’s taken each of these guys under his wing since he’s the veteran in the room now. “I’m going to help them as best as I can.”
Virginia Tech is on the front of everyone’s mind.
I asked Dexter Robbins if he was preparing during camp with Virginia Tech in the back of his mind. He interrupted me, “Virginia Tech is in the front of my mind. The weight room, the work that we are putting in (on and off the field), is to beat Virginia Tech.”
Stephon Masha agreed. “I’m always thinking about Virginia Tech.”
Coach Gill said it’s always easier to get the team ready to go right out of the gate when a team like Virginia Tech is the first game on the schedule.
New offense still has a ways to go.
With new offensive coordinator Joe Dailey installing a new offense and having a new starting quarterback for the first time in 4 years, the offense is not firing on all cylinders after just 1 practice, but that’s to be expected. Coach Gill was pleased that the guys retained a lot of information from the spring and they were doing a good job getting lined up in the right place. He said the execution still has a long ways to go, but he liked the organization. Masha said the first day is “just getting the kinks out.”
As far as the new, uptempo offense that will feature a lot of no huddle, it shouldn’t be much of an adjustment for Masha as his high school offense was a no huddle offense.
The Flames are using the disappointing 2015 season as motivation for this year.
This is a theme that has been running throughout the offseason. Coach Gill said today that the team has a lot of things to be motivated about, not just the challenging schedule, but also not playing to the team’s expectations last year.
“Last year was very disappointing because we lost games we shouldn’t have lost,” Robbins said. “We used it as a motivational factor in the winter and in the summer. Now, it’s over with. That season is passed on, it’s in the history books. All we can think about now is today and continue to get better as a team and as one unit.”
Masha was very similar in his take, “We have to take that (motivation from last year) and move on and have a good season this year.”
Gill is very excited about having Scott Downing as Special Teams Coordinator.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t been as good as I would want our special teams to be in every phase, particularly in our return game. We haven’t had a whole lot of success whether its been punt return or kickoff return. I feel great about Scott Downing. He’s always done a great job wherever he’s been. He’s been a tremendous asset already in just the short time he’s been here, and I think we’ll see some of those results as we play in the fall.”
Coach Gill also talked about incoming freshman kicker Alex Probert. “We feel good about Alex Probert coming in. He has a solid leg, pretty accurate. His leg’s not going to be as strong as John Lunsford, there’s not going to be too many that are, (Lunsford’s) a special guy.”
I asked both Stephon Masha and Dexter Robbins about some guys that the fans aren’t familiar with that we will learn about this season.
Masha named wide receivers Marquis Fitzgerald and Damian King. He said he thinks King will have a really explosive year.
Robbins named the entire linebacker corp, but singled out Lucas Irons, Jaylyn McKinney, and David King. He also mentioned Korell Evans, “brand new freshman trying to get his feet wet. He’s a really good athlete and he’s picking up on the schemes quick.”