May 2, 2006

Football celebrates with spring game

by David Thompson, Sports Reporter

The semester is drawing to a close and Liberty Athletics did not miss the chance to generate enthusiasm for one of its sports before all the students go home for the summer. The Liberty Flames officially ended their spring practice schedule by showing off the veteran, young, and newly acquired talent on Danny Rocco’s football squad. “Rocco Era” has become a catch-phrase among students, signifying the great shift in attitude from one of disappointment about last season to anticipation of the coming one.

 Anticipation could have been the key word as more than 4,000 students showed up to Williams Stadium. They were there to watch the Flames’ offense and defense face off against each other in a series of 80 scripted plays designed to give the fans a taste of things to expect from the team in the upcoming season.

This was not a “game” in the general sense of the word, as there was no time clock, no tackling, and no on-field progress. The game was run completely on a predetermined set of plays in a specific order. The most unusual thing for the fans was watching a play be run successfully, only to have the ball be spotted somewhere else on the field, completely unrelated to the completion of the play. Nonetheless, the fans enjoyed watching their players perform.

“I thought the atmosphere was really good, the energy was really good,” said Head Coach Danny Rocco. “It’s obvious that the administration, the student body, and the community are behind us right now.”

“They were very excited to have this number of people here. There was a lot of energy,” said Defensive Coordinator Tom Clark. He also added, “this is probably as efficient as (the players) have been. I didn’t expect it, but it was exciting to see,” said Liberty’s Offensive Coordinator Scott Wachenheim.

The defense shone through most of the game, stopping several touchdowns as sophomore Ryan Grieser showed promise with an interception, the only turnover of the game. “We moved him over from offense this spring and we’re really excited about the move,” said Clark.

“It was all scripted, so they knew what was coming,” said Brock Smith, one of Liberty’s two main quarterbacks during the game. He was, however, quick to credit the defense with being one of the most difficult defenses to read. “I think this defense that we have here, seeing it over and over again is going to be able to help us read other defenses.”

The offense put up a respectable show as well, with anticipation running high for players such as Rashad Jennings and Smith. A key problem for the offense was that the defense was unable to tackle, which may have led to a greater feeling of security for the offense, hence more relaxed play.

“I think we were all pretty much disappointed that we weren’t able to go live,” said Smith.

“We ran the football well most of the day, and when we pass-protected we threw the ball well,” said Wachenheim.

Zach Terrell, Smith’s chief competitor for the starting QB position, put up a good showing, improvising several times when plays were broken up. “(Terrell) did a good job of ad-libbing without hurting the football team,” Wachenheim said.

“They both took turns making some plays and shining at times,” said Rocco.

Former Liberty running back Samkon Gado addressed the crowd during halftime.

Rocco then followed up with the presentation of pre-season awards. He began by presenting gifts to the graduating seniors from the football team. He then presented the “Samkon Gado Award” — for the most improved player — to Chris Stokes.

The “Luke 2:52 Award” — referencing the verse “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” — was presented to Brock Farrel.

Rocco then announced the offensive and defensive captains for the upcoming season. Defensively, linebacker Manny Rojas and Jason Horn, and on offense, running back Jennings and offensive lineman Jarrett Winfrey each received the honors.

The coaches agreed that this was a satisfactory culmination of the spring practices up to this point. “We’ve had very high energy all spring long and the kids have really responded to what we’ve asked of them,” said Wachenheim. “I think the whole spring has been a steady progress,” added Clark. Rocco summed it up well, admitting problems while not downing his team. “There’s a lot to work on, but I hope we made a lot of progress out here today, and I have a good feeling about where we are right now.”

Contact David Thompson dbthompson@liberty.edu.


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