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Grounds crews installed new turf at Williams Stadium this summer in preparation for Liberty University Football kicking off a 2015 season full of expectations on Sept. 5 at home against Delaware State University. The Flames are on track to sell a record number of season tickets for the third year in a row, and membership in Liberty’s Flames Club continues to grow.
Last year, the Flames won their seventh Big South Conference (BSC) championship in eight seasons, finishing 9-5 overall, 4-1 in BSC play. They clinched the title and their first NCAA FCS Playoffs appearance by upsetting No. 1-ranked Coastal Carolina, 15-14 in Conway, S.C., before going on to eliminate 15th-ranked James Madison University, 26-21 in the FCS Playoffs opener in Harrisonburg, Va.
Liberty enters the season with its highest preseason ranking since 1996, as the Flames are ranked No. 14 in the FCS Coaches Poll released Aug. 5. This fall, Liberty, picked to finish second in the BSC preseason poll, will host two other teams that qualified for the 2014 FCS Playoffs — Montana on Sept. 19 and preseason favorite Coastal Carolina on Thursday, Nov. 19, the regular-season finale that could once again determine the conference championship. That game will be nationally televised on ESPNEWS.
“We want to play a tough schedule, to prepare ourselves within the conference and outside the conference, both for now (regular season) and for the future (playoffs),” Flames Head Coach Turner Gill said at Big South Media Day, July 29 at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. “Our team has great leadership … and we’re just glad to have the opportunity to go at it again. We’re ready to play some football.”
On a team that features three times as many freshmen (39), several seniors will play integral roles in determining the Flames’ fate this fall.
In his final season under center, fourth-year starting quarterback and captain Josh Woodrum has an opportunity to eclipse a handful of career records, including passing yards, touchdown passes, and total offense — marks currently held by Liberty Athletics Hall of Fame quarterback Robby Justino. One of Woodrum’s top passing targets will be senior wide receiver Darrin Peterson, who is on two preseason first-team All-America lists after finishing 2014 as one of the top receivers in the nation with a school record 1,379 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“We have so many weapons on offense this year,” Woodrum said. “I would be really surprised if anyone will be able to match us athletically on the outside with our skill guys.”
Senior placekicker John Lunsford, who kicked the three longest field goals in the country last year — including a 60-yarder that sent the Flames’ Homecoming game against Richmond into overtime and aired on ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 Plays of the Day — is considered the best pro prospect in the BSC.
Liberty’s stacked offensive line, anchored by senior left guard Jonathan Burgess and sophomore right tackle Tanner Hartman, has an international flavor this year with senior Max Sommer from Germany and incoming freshman Ernst Anderson from Norway.
They will, no doubt, provide plenty of protection for Woodrum and running room for senior backs D.J. Abnar, who rushed for 1,289 yards and 15 touchdowns last fall, and Desmond Rice, who returns from an injury that sidelined him last season after rushing for 967 yards and 16 TDs as a junior in 2013.
Meanwhile, defensive end Chima Uzowihe, who blocked the field goal as time expired in the one-point win at Coastal Carolina, will be relied upon to lead a young defensive unit that lost five starters, including two now playing in the NFL — Jacob Hagen (St. Louis Rams) and Dominique “Niko” Davis (Pittsburgh Steelers).
Tickets are still available for all of Liberty’s home contests. Flames fans won’t want to miss the Sept. 19 game against Montana on Hall of Fame Weekend (Eric Green, Liberty’s first-ever first round NFL Draft pick, and Sam Rutigliano, the Flames’ winningest head coach, will be among the inductees), the Oct. 24 Homecoming Weekend game against Big South newcomer Kennesaw State, and the Nov. 7 Military Appreciation Day game against Presbyterian College.
Home and away contests covered by LFSN will be broadcast live on the new WFFP-TV (Channel 24 in the Lynchburg, Roanoke, and Danville areas), and via radio on The Journey or the My Journey FM mobile app, with most also webcast on ESPN3 and the Big South Network.