Sunday, April 20, 2014

Flames’ honorable legacy continues on with NCAA

Life on Life

Deep inside the Football Operations Center there is a man in an office that, like Liberty University’s founder Jerry Falwell Sr., has a vision for Liberty athletes. Dr. Ed Gomes is the Director of the Spiritual Development program for the football team and as the spiritual leader of Liberty’s football program, he personally oversees to the spiritual lives and conditions of the athletes, coaches, trainers and managers of the team.

Fan the flames — Over the past four decades, the Flames have become a dominant presence in world of college athletics. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

“Just because a school is Christian in name, it doesn’t mean that they are committed to living the Biblical mandates in the Scriptures,” Gomes said.

Gomes practices servant leadership, assisting all members of the program in any way he can. He leads weekly Bible studies, meets weekly with players for accountability and discipleship and is a prayer warrior for the football players.

“We have a biblical model based on Luke 2:52, and what that verse says is, ‘And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature and in favor with God and man,’” Gomes said.

Bearing Luke 2:52 in mind, Gomes has designed a system called the Whole Person Development Model for use in training football players to be champions not only of the Big South but for Jesus Christ.

“On the basis of that Bible verse there are four areas that we give attention to within our athletic program. The first has to do with academics… The second piece is athletics … the next area is socially … the fourth area is to develop the spiritual aspect of the student athlete’s life.”

“Jesus built into the three, he built into the 12, and he built into the 70. One of the ways that we are going to impact our whole team is by you making your position your ministry. Let’s pray with each other, let’s pray for each other and let’s pray for the guys in our position. Let’s live out our relationship with God in that position and let God use us,” Gomes said.

Gomes intentionally places great significance on accountability and the importance of men working through life together, building up one another’s faith. “The experience the student athletes gain now will be invaluable after Liberty,” Gomes said.

“It’s really life on life. The whole goal of this life on life is so when they graduate and they start working at some newspaper place or wherever it might be, they’ve practiced what they’re going to do when they start the job. You’re going to start looking for people that have the same values and interests that you have and then you’re going to start praying with that person and see how God wants to use you to impact those people you’re with. That’s how discipleship works,” Gomes said to players.

Even considering the growth of the athletics program at Liberty in recent years, Gomes is confident that the system in place will secure Liberty’s reputation as a program which competes with integrity and sportsmanship while lifting up the name of Jesus.

“Sometimes people ask me, ‘Hey, the bigger the school gets you must be doing something to compromise with this or that.’ When I was here in the early 1970s there were guys in the high interest group, there were guys in the some interest group and there were guys in the no interest group,” Gomes said. “It’s the same. What I’ve got to do is pay attention to where these guys are at and then help them win in these four areas.”

“No matter how big we get, that never changes,” Gomes said.

Brains and Braun

Liberty’s biblical model of Whole Person Development is strengthening our athletes’ academic integrity and boosting classroom performance to new highs. Recently Liberty University was given academic certification by the National Association of Academic Advisors for Athletics.

According their website, the N4A “established a certification program to raise the professional standard among academic support programs and encourage a broader range of understanding of best practices and successful operations.”

Liberty joins other prestigious institutions such as Clemson University, Baylor University, Michigan State University and North Carolina State University among others.

According to Athletic Director Jeff Barber, the academic success of the athletes in the past year is the biggest victory for the athletic program, as 283 student athletes maintained a 3.0 GPA or greater.

“We set records in grade point average and had more 3.0 student-athletes than we have ever had before. Also, we became only the 13th NCAA Division one school to receive academic certification by the N4A. This is a great honor for our program,” Barber said.

Libertyflames.com draws 1.3 million visitors

One staple of a successful football program is a first rate media team. Liberty University has made a large commitment to make this a reality for the program. One of the biggest aspects of sports coverage is www.libertyflames.com.

Liberty has a staff of nine individuals that contribute to the content on the site and a small army of information technology personnel.

Among the many things that makes www.libertyflames.com unique from other websites.

Around the country is that for nearly its entire existence, dating back to 1998, it has been hosted on campus.

“Most of the collegiate websites you see out there today are done by professional companies, but we’re one of the very few in the country that still has their website hosted on campus,” Assistant Athletic Director for Athletic Media Relations Todd Wetmore said.

“Most of the time when you are dealing with an outside vendor, you’re number 64 on a customer list, and you’ve got to wait for a half a dozen other schools around the country to get their changes made before you get moved up on the priority list. The university saw fit to support us from the IT perspective. IT does a great job supporting us and giving us the necessary tools to give a very professional website,” Wetmore said.

Under Wetmore the website has blossomed into the primary sports resource for Flames fans. More than 1.3 million people visited the site in the last academic year, which comes out to an average of 200 hits every hour. To keep up with demand, Wetmore’s staff works around the clock to provide up to the hour information, he said.

“The way we view our website is from August to the end of May, basically from when football season starts to when baseball is done is kind of our season. We average more than five different stories a day. That includes weekends,” Wetmore said.

Beyond the written stories, www.libertyflames.com provides significant audio and video content to supplement the statistics and recaps. During the season, there are five new videos per week about the football program.

“Right now, our focus is less on written content and more on audio and video content. If you go to espn.com, most people aren’t reading their stories anymore. They want a 90 second clip. That’s all they want,” Wetmore said.

The staff that runs the website is also responsible for producing the various other publications, such as the official football media guide. In 2010, Liberty’s media guide won the title of best in the country at the Football Championship Subdivision level, Wetmore said.

“Our goals obviously are to fulfill Jerry Falwell’s vision of playing at the best level as a top 25 division one program. Jeff Barber wants us to not work like we’re in the Big South but work like we are already at that advanced level. We’re charged to work above our conference level right now,” Wetmore said.

Looking to the future, Wetmore hinted at the coming of a Liberty athletics app. Presently, Liberty is able to offer the myLibertyU app through Blackboard. Blackboard’s app is a basic template that any school that uses Blackboard has access to.

Liberty, however, would like to offer a more specialized app specific to Liberty, Wetmore said.

“It does get our information out there but the university now has hired mobile app people to try to develop our own unique application. That’s really where the future of things is. As technology grows and phones grow, we will certainly try to keep up with where technology is going,” Wetmore said.

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