"Rocco Era" Start Receives Positive Response From Local Area Media
Below are two stories that were written following Liberty's annual Spring Football Game at Williams Stadium on April 29.
From The Lynchburg News & Advance (April 30, 2006)
A New-Found Enthusiasm At LU
By Chris Lang
If there were any doubts about the buzz Danny Rocco had generated as Liberty University's new football coach, they were quieted Saturday afternoon.
Grills emanated with the sweet smoke of barbecued chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs. Fans gathered on the hill that overlooks Williams Stadium and in the stands.
"Things are changing," said Bob Good, the head of the Flames Club, Liberty's booster organization.
The proof is in the numbers. Last Oct. 22, there were 2,815 fans in the stands for Liberty's home finale against Coastal Carolina.
Saturday, 4,136 fans showed up for the Flames' spring game, a figure that exceeded the attendance for three of LU's five home games last season.
Yes, things are definitely changing.
"This was more typical of a game," said Samkon Gado, the former Liberty running back turned Green Bay Packer, who was in town for the festivities. "It just shows the excitement with the football program is really starting to permeate throughout the school. The school is really starting to take this seriously. I'm really excited about it. I did not expect this many people to show up."
Rocco didn't want Saturday's controlled scrimmage to be called a spring game, because in reality, it was not a game. Rocco scripted 80 plays for Saturday's scrimmage in an effort to replicate certain situations. So even after a 10-yard run on 1st-and-10, the Flames would line up for a 2nd-and-7 on the next play.
Even so, there was enough to keep the largest crowd to ever watch a Liberty spring game entertained.
Rashad Jennings, the former LCA standout and Pittsburgh transfer, ran for 99 yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns. Even without live hitting, the 250-pound Jennings was able to display his prodigious skills package. He pounded the ball up the middle for yardage, changed directions on counter plays and cut back through holes for big gains, including a 30-yard TD run.
"Rashad's going to get most of his yards after contact," Rocco said. "When you play in an environment like this, where you're thudding up on the ballcarrier, the whistle is blowing on the thud. There's always going to be that extra three, four, five yards after the thud. You'll see bigger and better things from him in the fall."
Zach Terrell had eight carries for 37 yards and completed 5 of 7 passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Chris Luck caught three passes for 63 yards, including a one-handed circus grab of a Brock Smith throw over the middle in the first half.
Rocco didn't allow live tackling at the scrimmage because he didn't see the need in risking injury, especially with the Flames partaking in their final set of drills on Williams Stadium's dilapidated artificial turf. The installation of FieldTurf at Williams will begin next month.
Still, Rocco had a good feel for how much his team improved over the span of 15 April practices.
"The kids worked hard all spring long," Rocco said. "There's a good spirit to the team, a lot of energy. The leadership has come a long way. There's enough talent around here to be good.
"We're going to compete this year and we're going to be good this year. I don't know what that means in terms of wins and losses, but we're going to put a good product on the field."
The fact that Saturday's final practice wasn't really much of a game didn't seem to bother the fans.
The buzz of the start of the Rocco era hasn't worn off yet, and Liberty officials hope it carries through the summer months and to the start of the season Aug. 31.
"I'd love for that whole parking lot out there to be full of people enjoying the day, and not just the game," LU athletics director Jeff Barber said. "This is a good start, and we're just going to build on it."
From The Liberty Champion (May 2, 2006)
Football Celebrates With Spring Game
By David Thompson
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."