Apr 24, 2007

Flames offense shines in spring game as team pays tribute to VT

by David Thompson, News Reporter
The Liberty Flames football team held its annual spring football game on Saturday to close out Head Coach Danny Rocco’s second spring at Liberty.

Over 4,000 people watched the exhibition — an offense vs. defense match-up intended to give the fans a taste of the possibilities going into the fall season.

“Overall, we had a great spring,” said Rocco, though he noted that the spring game did not encompass everything that he expects to see from the team in the coming year.
However, the team has covered just about every play in practice that the Flames fans will see next season.

The game was played in quarters of 12 minutes apiece and points were awarded for accomplishments like sacks, first downs, defensive stops and fumbles.

The offense, as Rocco admittedly expected, outshone the defense, which was one of the best scoring defenses nationally last year.

“It was well done, beginning to end,” said Rocco, liking what he saw, though admitting that the format was very relaxed compared to inter-collegiate competition. “It really wasn’t a sloppy day.”
Among the improvements this year is starting quarterback Brock Smith, who will be a junior during the coming season. He was the recipient of Liberty’s offensive Samkon Gado Award for showing the most improvement during the spring.

Smith, who shared the quarterbacking duties with fellow junior Zach Terrell last season, was named one of three offensive captains, along with linemen Eddie Pinigis and Steven Sene.

After a shaky start with a few overthrown deep passes, and suffering from being out of sync with his receivers, Smith settled down and connected on a few impressive throws downfield, completing 11 of his 20 attempts.

 He also showed poise under pressure by scrambling or throwing the ball away when trouble came, though he did get sacked twice.

Regarding his new position as team captain, Smith gave credit where credit was due.
“God has given me a unique opportunity,” said Smith.
“Words can’t express it. I’m speechless.”

The relaxed pace of the game, he said, contributed to his early struggles. “We were fair,” he said, giving himself a “C+” for performance.

Senior Stevie Ray Lloyd was named defensive captain along with fellow senior Steve Ackley. According to Rocco, Lloyd is “not as talkative” as last year’s defensive captain, linebacker Manny Rojas.

“I’m ready to lead us to a national championship,” he said, pleased at the cohesion the defense is showing in its new formation since Rocco took over. “It’s a whole lot easier (after a year).”
One area the team showed no difficulty, to the relief of the faithful fans, was the kicking game. Sophomore David Drake converted his one field goal attempt and did not miss a PAT.

Walk-on punter Dan Sterckz was impressive as well, booting eight kicks down the field for a total of 309 yards for an average of 38-plus per kick.

“He came out of nowhere,” said Rocco. “He has the ability to bang the ball.”
In the end, the offense took advantage of the scoring system better than the defense, finishing with a score of 35-25.

Other offensive standouts included Wesley Cheek, who took eight carries for 47 yards and one reception for another 16.

Senior Brandon Turner led the receiving corps in catches, with four catches for 46 yards. Senior Wynton Jackson hauled in two passes for 63 total yards.

At quarterback, backup Spencer Landis completed eight of his 16 attempts for 74 yards.
On defense, Lloyd turned out the best performance, with seven tackles and a forced fumble. Junior Pat Parziale finished right behind him with six tackles. Six other defenders registered sacks.
Overall, Rocco has been impressed with what he has seen since spring training.

“We’re very far in advance (of last year),” he said. “We’re in position to make a run for the national title.”

The Flames’ 2007 season will officially begin on Sept. 1 in Lynchburg against Tusculum College.

Contact David Thompson at dbthompson@liberty.edu.

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