The football season is drawing ever nearer, and in about four months, the new and improved Liberty Flames will take the field, and try to rebound from last season, in which they finished 1-10.
Head Coach Danny Rocco continues to stress that “this is not a rebuilding season.” Rocco may have had no better way to emphasize that than to plan a schedule that he calls “very competitive,” though he does not doubt his team’s ability to keep up with the rigors. Rocco recently released the full schedule for the 2006 season, which is set to begin on August 31, and will feature four Big South Conference games, two of which will be played at home.
The most unusual aspect of the schedule is the appearance of a Division I-A team, Wake Forest, who Liberty will be playing near the middle of the season. The Flames are the only Big South Conference team to take on a Division I-A opponent.
Liberty kicks off the season with a two-game homestand, facing St. Paul’s University on August 31, then following up with a match against Glenville St. on September 9.
The last half of the month (September 16-30) features a three-game road trip, with Liberty facing Towson. In the first away game of the season. Towson won its last contest against Liberty 38-17. The next game will be played against Savannah St., Liberty’s furthest trip of the season, to Savannah, Ga. The road trip finishes up with a visit to Winston-Salem, N.C., in what is likely the toughest game Liberty will play this season, according to Rocco.
Last year, Wake Forest finished with a record of 4-7, going 3-5 in conference play. Rocco said that there were “other options” as far as scheduling more I-A teams, and he did not have doubts about how Liberty’s squad could perform. He said, however, that he based all of his scheduling decisions on one question: “Will it help us compete in the Big South Conference this year?”
A two-week break ensues for Liberty, following their contest against Wake, giving them plenty of time to prepare for Homecoming. The Homecoming game will be played on October 14 against William and Mary, who handed Liberty a particularly disappointing loss last season (56-0).
This begins a two-game homestand that will be concluded against Gardner-Webb, Liberty’s first Big South conference opponent of the season. Gardner-Webb also beat Liberty last season, handing the Flames a 21-16 loss.
From there, Liberty heads to South Carolina for a game against Coastal Carolina, a conference competitor who handed Liberty a loss with a margin of one touchdown, beating the Flames 27-21.
Liberty’s final two home games will be played on November 4 and 11, the first being a non-conference game against Western Carolina, before finishing the home slate against Big South opponent Charleston Southern, who survived the Flames last season, edging them out by the narrowest of margins, 31-30.
Liberty’s final game will be against VMI, in Lexington, Vir. The game against VMI was one of Liberty’s best defensive games last season, as they finished just a field goal short of the Keydets, losing a close one 10-7.
Despite the struggles likely to come this season, Rocco had high praise for this Liberty squad. “I like the guys on this team,” he said. “We have a team that’s very competitive, that plays smart, plays tough, and plays competitively.” The one thing Rocco said he seeks to prove this season is “that we’re for real.”
After a disappointing season in 2005, many people are not taking Liberty seriously. Rocco wants to reverse that negative view by showing that his team is capable of competing, and competing well, without taking time off to rebuild, in the meantime sacrificing all of the older players on the team.
Rocco is very optimistic about the state of his team now. “I think we have certainly enough talent to be successful,” he said.
Liberty plays a spring game to showcase their talent on Saturday, April 29. Rocco hopes to generate enthusiasm about football at the school, and give Liberty another program to be proud of. He said “even if you don’t like football, when you wear that shirt with the school name on it, there’s always that pride (that comes with having a good football team).”
Contact David Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org.