When head coach Danny Rocco first took the head coaching position at Liberty on Dec. 5, 2005, he found a program at one of its lowest points in school history. The Flames were coming off a disappointing 1-10 campaign, tying the school record for fewest wins in a season.
Some 21 months later, Rocco enters his second year at the helm of a program which ended the 2006 season with a 6-5 record and tied for the nation’s best turnaround last year.
Liberty set numerous school records during the turnabout, including eight defensive marks, undoubtedly bringing a smile to the face of Rocco, a 20-plus year defensive coaching veteran.
The Flames’ most notable record book alternation was a new mark for fewest points allowed (172), bettering a 27-year-old Liberty record. Liberty’s opponent’s offensive futility allowed the Flames to finish the year ranked No. 12 nationally in scoring defense (15.6 points per game).
Head Coach Danny Rocc
“I think if you look back over our brief time as a staff here at Liberty, we’ve made a number of significant drives toward improvement,” stated Rocco. “This is a much more confident group of men.”
One of the stoutest classes in program history returns for another go around in 2007. Rocco will dress more than 90 players on his roster, which includes 39 returning letterwinners (18 offense, 19 defense and two special teams) and 20 returning starters (10 offense, eight defense and two special teams).
So what does a coach who has seemingly “righted the ship” in such a short period of time do to help the program’s continual spiral upwards after taking it from troublesome to good. He has challenged this substantial-returning-deep to take the next step up the ladder and move from “Good2Great.”
Rocco has adopted the motto for the 2007 season, hoping Liberty can quickly return to its late 90s status as a force to be reckoned with at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level (formerly known as I-AA football).
“We are actually coming off two successful seasons, as the spring practice session was just as important to our improvement as our successes last fall,” added Rocco. “We finished up the spring looking like a football team ready to go out and play a game. I never could have said that at this time last year.”
Rocco altered schemes on both sides of the ball during his first year, bringing a two-back formation to the offense and a 3-4 setting to the defense.
The Flames responded well to both adjustments. Liberty rushed for 2,035 yards and 23 touchdowns, ranking No. 18 nationally in rushing yards per game (185.0), and the defensive shift resulted in the already-mentioned records.
2006 was certainly a season the Flames faithful will recall as a “Season to Remember.” Rocco hopes years from now, those who speak of the revitalization of the Liberty football program will reflect upon 2007 as the year when the Flames moved from “Good2Great.”
When asked to talk about his team position-by-position, Rocco was quick to start with his offensive line. The head coach rightfully should be excited about the position, as Liberty returns all but one starter on an offensive line which was one of the best nationally in 2006.
Last year, Liberty rushed for 2,035 yards and 23 touchdowns and had a running back tandem both find the end zone 10 or more times for just the second time in program history.Liberty’s offense finished ranked among the nation's top 20 teams in eight categories, thanks in part to the stellar play of the offensive line. The Flames tied for first nationally for fewest turnovers lost (8), ranked No. 6 in fourth down conversions (71.4 percent), No. 9 in sacks allowed (1.00 per game), No. 10 in third down conversions (47.5 percent), No. 17 in rushing touchdowns (23), No. 18 in both rushing offense (185 yards per game) and time of possession (31:44) and No. 20 in fewest tackles for a loss allowed (4.55).
Liberty’s only loss on the offensive line was Big South second-team all-conference selection Jarrett Winfrey (6-4, 285). However, Rocco will replace the team captain with a seasoned veteran, as Virginia transfer Marshal Ausberry (6-6, 320) is set to fill Winfrey’s vacancy at left guard.
With Stephen Sene (6-6, 310) and Eddie Pinigis (6-8, 295) returning at the tackle positions and Mike Godsil (6-2, 285) and Britt Stone (6-2, 275) coming back at center and right guard, respectively, the Flames enter the preseason with a starting five on the O-line who average 6-5, 297, figures which are fairly impressive for FCS football.
“I look at our offense right now and it all starts with our offensive line,” commented Rocco. “Our offensive line is big, experienced and powerful. They have the ability to impose their will and dominate a game.”
Spearheading the O-line’s efforts will be co-captains Sene and Pinigis. Sene was granted a special exemption from the NCAA, giving the South Carolina native a sixth year of eligibility due to medical injuries suffered at two previous schools before landing at Liberty. The Big South preseason all-conference honoree graded out at a team-best 93 percent last year and led the squad in knockdowns.
“Stephen is a solid player week-in and week-out,” commented Rocco. “He is in the best shape of his life and we are expecting an outstanding season from him at left tackle.”
Pinigis quickly adapted to Liberty life after transferring from Virginia just days before the start of the 2006 season. Pinigis led the team in pancake blocks and graded out at 90 percent, tying for second place on the team.
Godsil returns as the Flames’ starting center after starting all 11 games last year. Rocco describes Liberty’s all-time leader in the bench press as “tenacious, hard working, combative and physical.”
Stone, who started 10 games a year ago, round out the returnees. “Britt will play at right guard next to Eddie (Pinigis) this year, and he is a talented player who takes great pride in his work.”
Ausberry is the “newbie” to the group, but he brings significant playing experience to the Flames. He started all but one game in 2005 for the Cavaliers and had significant playing time last year in Charlottesville.
Giving Liberty depth on the offensive line will be Mario Cosby (6-1, 270), Zach Davis (6-4, 290), Bryan Mosier (6-2, 300), Antonio Tassara (6-8, 320), Justin Vargas (6-5, 280) and Josh Weaver (6-4, 280).
Davis, who is slated to back up Stone at right guard, saw the most playing time of the group with game action in eight games last year. “I am expecting big things from Zach this year and in the future,” remarked Rocco. “He is versatile and can play at any position on the line if needed.”
Offensive Line at a Glance
LT Stephen Sene (R-Sr. 6-6 310)
LG Marshal Ausberry (R-Sr. 6-6 320)
C Mike Godsil (Jr. 6-2 300)
RG Britt Stone (R-Jr. 6-2 275)
RT Eddie Pinigis (R-Sr. 6-8 295)
Mario Cosby (R-So. 6-1 270)
Zach Davis (R-Jr. 6-4 290)
Bryan Mosier (R-So. 6-2 300)
Antonio Tassara (R-Fr. 6-8 320)
Justin Vargas (R-Fr. 6-5 280)
Josh Weaver (R-So. 6-4 280)
Matthew Camire (R-Fr. 6-3 270)
Chase Harrington Fr. 6-8 290)
Tim Hartman (R-So. 6-4 330)
Spencer Hodges (Fr. 6-6 300)
Orlando Perez (R-Fr. 6-2 275)
Jeff Shivers (R-Sr. 6-6 350)
Tony White (Fr. 6-4 285)
The rushing game has been a strength at Liberty for the last six years, with the Flames besting the 2,000-yard rushing mark four times over the span.
Last year, Liberty rushed for 2,035 yards, ranking fourth best in program history, to go along with 23 rushing touchdowns. The Flames finished the year ranked No. 18 in the country in rushing yards per game (185.0).
Over 80 percent of Liberty’s 2,035 yards came from the dynamic duo of Rashad Jennings and Zach Terrell.
Jennings (6-1, 235) became the sixth player in school history to surpass the 1,000-yard mark by leading the team with 1,020 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Terrell (6-0, 200), playing in what Rocco tabbed as a “A” back position, rushed for 693 yards and a team-best 13 touchdowns, tying for sixth place in single-season total rushing touchdowns at Liberty.
"During the offseason, we were able to solidify Zach’s role as our ‘A’ back after using him as a quasi running back/quarterback last year,” stated Rocco. “We worked him hard this spring at the position, and I am certainly pleased with his progress. He gives us such versatility at this spot.”
“Rashad is a very gifted player, who we are expecting great things from this year,” continued Rocco. “With Rashad, Zach and Chris (Stokes) in our backfield, I think we have three first-team all-conference players at running back.”
Stokes (6-2, 240) is an aggressive fullback, who was limited to 13 carries for 45 yards last year, but played a key blocking role in Liberty’s rushing scheme. “Chris is a big and physical athlete who is more than adequate at carrying the ball, but enjoys blocking and throwing his body around. We certainly value his skills in our program.”
Among those vying for playing time after the previously mentioned trio will be Derek Bishop (5-10, 225), Danny Broggin (6-0, 200) and Wes Cheek (6-0, 210).
Cheek had a breakout performance in the Flames’ spring game, rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown, and is slated to back up Jennings. “Wes came out of the spring as one of our most dynamic players,” stated Rocco. “He is very consistent and tough to defend, as he is a slashing type of player.”
Broggin, who will back up Terrell at “A” back, redshirted last year and is described by Rocco as an “intriguing young man with plenty of versatility.”
Vying for time behind Stokes will be Bishop at fullback. Bishop saw playing time in all 11 games last year and started one game (Savannah State) as a true freshman.
Running Backs at a Glance
RB Rashad Jennings (Jr. 6-1 235)
FB Chris Stokes (R-Sr. 6-2 240)
AB Zach Terrell (Jr. 6-0 200)
Derek Bishop (FB) (So. 5-10 225)
Danny Broggin (R-Fr. 6-0 200)
Wes Cheek (So. 6-0 210)
Terron Lawrence (R-So. 5-7 175)
Joey Sandvig (R-Jr. 5-10 235)
Terry Williams (R-Fr. 5-9 185)
Julian LiDrazzah (R-So. 5-8 200)
Shay Nicholson (Fr. 6-1 205)
Osita Ofuani (R-So. 5-10 180)
Nate Revell (FB) (R-Fr. 5-10 225)
“If you are going to have a great season, then your quarterback has to play well,” remarked Rocco. “And that’s true of any program in America, not just here at Liberty.”
Brock Smith (6-3, 240) is living proof of this statement, as he threw for 1,376 yards and seven touchdowns last year during Liberty’s resurgence with the yardage ranking fifth most by a sophomore quarterback in program history.
But even more important was Smith’s ability to avoid the interception. The hurler was picked off only five times, helping Liberty set a new school record for fewest team interceptions (previous record was nine set in 1994, 1995 and 1999). Liberty also led the nation in fewest turnovers lost (eight – three fumbles and five interceptions).
However, as much as Smith improved from his freshman to his sophomore year, the rising junior showed just as much progress during the spring workout sessions. This is evident by the fact he was named one of five team captains.
“Brock has taken a totally new approach to how he sees and carries himself and he is able to project this to his position on the field,” added Rocco. “In a lot of ways, Brock has figured out what we have been preaching around here for over a year. He has learned the system. He is focused, purposeful and has earned the respect of his teammates.
“Brock went out in the offseason and got himself into the best shape of his life. He studied film, learned from his mistakes and was able to put together a spring that really excited me.”
Smith’s understudy at quarterback this year will be Spencer Landis (6-2, 185). The sophomore, who threw for over 1,500 yards and a school-record 24 touchdowns his senior year at Dacula High School in Dacula, Ga., saw playing time in four games last year as a true freshman.
“Spencer came on well for us during the spring,” commented Rocco. “As we got deeper and deeper into the season, we liked everything we saw. He’s tall, rangy and has a good arm. He has demonstrated a good football IQ in terms of learning the offense and making good decisions. I think he’s sitting right where he needs to be, behind Brock, learning and developing his game.”
Kyle DeArmon (6-3, 180) also got some time under center this past spring, and Liberty still has an “ace in the hole” if it needs to go back to Terrell at quarterback. Terrell has thrown for 232 yards by completing 23-of-37 pass attempts (62.5 percent) his first two years with the program.
Quarterbacks at a Glance
QB Brock Smith (Jr. 6-3 240)
Spencer Landis (So. 6-2 185)
Kyle DeArmon (R-Fr. 6-3 180)
Zach Terrell (Jr. 6-0 200)
Mike Brown (Fr. 6-0 190)
Two-time Big South second-team all-conference tight end Chris Luck (6-5, 250) returns for his final year at Liberty and leads a deeper group than years past at this position.
Two years ago, Luck had a breakout year by ranking third on the team as he caught 24 passes for 239 yards, totaling the most receiving yards by a Flames tight end since Peter Foy finished with 265 yards in 1998.
Last year, Luck utilized his blocking skills to help the Flames’ running attack pile up 2,035 yards and 23 touchdowns, ranking No. 18 in the country in rushing yards per game (185.0). “Chris has had a very solid career at Liberty,” remarked Rocco. “He’s got good size and hands, and he fits well into our system.”
Along with Luck will be two other seniors vying for time at tight end this year. Corey Rasberry (6-3, 235) and Richard Thom (6-3, 235) will also be looking to log some time on the field at the position.
“I’ve told all these seniors they need to have the best year of their careers in order for us to make this transition from ‘Good2Great’,” said Rocco. “Corey and Richard have both done things very well in splashes over the last year and a half.
“I’m excited about both of these players, but they need to be a little more consistent with what they’re doing. Corey has a good combination with blocking at the point of attack and the ability to release and catch the ball down the field. Richard is a really gifted receiver.”
Tight Ends at a Glance
TE Chris Luck (R-Sr. 6-5 250)
Corey Rasberry (R-Sr. 6-3 235)
Richard Thom (R-Sr. 6-3 235)
Ricky Jenkins (Fr. 6-2 225)
Will Quarles (R-So. 6-2 250)
Thomas Shaver (Fr. 6-6 250)
Mike Tyson (R-Sr. 6-3 218)
Adam Woodmansee (R-Jr. 6-3 250)
The wide receiving corps will once again be one of the deepest units on the Flames’ roster, as several seasoned veterans return to catch passes for the Flames this year. “Looking at our wide receivers, this position certainly has top-end talent,” commented Rocco.
The senior duo of Wynton Jackson (6-2, 188) and Brandon Turner (6-2, 175) has combined for more than over 2,600 receiving yards during the past three seasons, along with 11 touchdowns.
Jackson has eclipsed the 500-yard mark the last two seasons and posted career-best numbers last year with 40 receptions for 519 yards (13.0 average yards per catch).
“Wynton has a chance to be as good as there is in the country at this level at the wide receiver position,” stated Rocco. “He is a talented, gifted athlete. He’s got size and explosiveness. He’s the kind of guy who can break a game open with a little three-to-four yard stop route, catch the ball, make a guy miss and then go the distance for a touchdown.”
Turner has led the Flames in receiving the past two seasons. Two years ago, he caught a career-best 43 passes for 594 yards. In 2006, he followed with a career-high 604 yards, marking the second-highest individual receiving total over the last 13 years of Liberty football.
“Brandon is another senior who has really come on,” stated Rocco. “He has been very consistent for us and is a competitive player. He is the type of guy who wants the ball in critical situations and is capable of making the big play. He has a desire to go up and get the ball.”
Following closely behind Jackson and Turner is Dominic Bolden (5-10, 175), having surpassed the 100-yard receiving mark his first two seasons at Liberty.
“Dominic is just raw speed,” added Rocco. “He spent a lot of time this past spring running with our track and field program as part of the 4x100 relay team. He has made a lot of progress as a football player, as he likes to mix it up and isn’t afraid to throw his body up in the air. He’s got blazing speed that defenders have to respect. “
Also vying for time at the wide receiver position is a large collection of undeveloped talent with eight different players combining to average 2.4 games played last year.
Leading the way among the group is Matt Lambros (6-3, 210), who saw action in all 11 games last year, catching two passes for 17 yards.
The remainder of the team’s pass catchers consists of an interesting mix of players, including a converted quarterback in Tavarus Dove (5-9, 175) and several incoming freshmen.
Wide Receivers at a Glance
WR Wynton Jackson (R-Sr. 6-2 188)
WR Brandon Turner (Sr. 6-2 175)
Dominic Bolden (Jr. 5-10 175)
Jonathan Crawford (R-Jr. 6-0 215)
Tavarus Dove (Sr. 5-9 175)
James Forystek (R-Jr. 6-2 190)
Matt Lambros (Jr. 6-3 210)
Eugene Rogers (R-So. 6-0 180)
LaRandale Lee (Fr. 5-11 180)
Jason Myers (R-So. 5-11 175)
Cedric Sanderson (Fr. 6-5 205)
Liberty’s defense certainly set the tone for the season early in 2006, holding its first four opponents to a combined 17 points, including two shutouts.
By year’s end, the Flames posted three shutouts, setting a new school mark, while ranking No. 12 nationally in scoring defense (15.6 points allowed per game).
All in all, the Flames’ stout defenders kept Liberty in virtually every game, as the Flames dropped their four I-AA losses by a combined 13 points.
Eight of those starting defenders from last year’s steadfast unit return for another go around, beginning with two out of three players on the defensive line.
Returning starting defensive linemen Steven Ackley (6-3, 260) and Colin Dugan (6-0, 290) are slated to enter preseason camp as starters, along with last year’s key reserve Kevin Richard (6-3, 280).
Ackley is one of two defensive captains on this year’s squad and is one of four Liberty defenders named to the Big South preseason all-conference squad. Last year, the defensive end ranked eighth on the squad in tackles (38), helping him eclipse the 100-career tackle plateau.
“Steven is a steady, tough, hard-working player who can do a lot of different things for us,” commented Rocco. “He made a lot of improvement this year as a pass rusher.”
Dugan returns for his second-straight season at nose guard. He was one of six defensive players to start all 11 games last year, finishing the season 10th on the squad with 36 tackles.
“Colin is a prototypical nose guard,” added Rocco about the Pennsylvania native. “He is strong, explosive and powerful. Colin has the ability to line up with his opponent and wear him down.”
The new starter to the trio will be Richard. However, the local product out of Liberty Christian Academy is no stranger to the position, as he played in all 11 games and started against VMI in the season finale last year. Richard specialized in the pass rush, finishing the year with five quarterback hurries, which ranked fourth on the squad.
“Kevin has come on and steadily improved his game,” remarked Rocco. “Each and every week, he has gotten better, bigger and stronger.”
"These three guys fit the mold of who we want to be,” continued Rocco about his defensive line. “They are blue-collar guys who are going to work hard and be physical and unselfish players. They also have enough ability to make plays for us, and they need to step up for us this year.”
Experienced depth is not a luxury the Flames have on the defensive line, as just two reserves bring any previous playing experience.
Trey Jacobs (6-3, 280) saw playing time in nine games as a true freshman last year, finishing his first collegiate campaign with seven tackles. Brady Hassel (6-3, 280), slated to back up Dugan at nose guard, appeared in just three games.
The remaining non-starters will be looking for their first playing experience, led by Tim Smith (6-3, 265) and Soeren Wendlend (6-8, 290), who both redshirted last year.
Defensive Line at a Glance
DE Kevin Richard (R-Jr. 6-3 280)
NG Colin Dugan (Jr. 6-0 290)
DE Steven Ackley (Sr. 6-3 260)
Trey Jacobs (So. 6-3 280)
Brady Hassell (NG) (R-Jr. 6-3 280)
Tim Smith (R-Fr. 6-3 265)
Soeren Wendland (R-Fr. 6-8 290)
Jay Coady (NG) (R-Jr. 6-1 280)
Josh Musselman (R-Jr. 6-0 215)
Rick Personna (R-Jr. 6-2 230)
Jordan Spaeth (R-So. 6-1 250)
Rocco’s defensive change to a 3-4 scheme placed a great deal of responsibility on the Flames’ linebackers. The solid corps responded quite well to the vigorous challenge, as Liberty’s top two defenders were linebackers and four out of the team’s best nine tacklers came from the unit.
But one of the key components to the successful unit is gone, as Manny Rojas is one of the five total starters not returning this year. Rojas, the heart and soul of Liberty’s defense for the past four years, graduated as the second-leading tackler in Big South Conference history with 348 stops.
Looking to take over the leadership mantle among the unit members will be the second defensive captain of the squad, Stevie Ray Lloyd (5-11, 235). In his first year with the program after transferring to Liberty from Virginia Tech, Lloyd led the squad with 80 tackles and made a name for himself by earning Big South second-team all-conference honors.
“Stevie Ray is a hard working, dedicated, talented linebacker, who just loves to play the game,” spoke Rocco about one of his inside linebackers. “He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played, with a great deal of passion. He runs well, and he is a guy who will be very active by making plays all over the field.”
Stevie Ray Lloyd
Joining Lloyd at the other inside linebacker spot will be Nick Hursky (6-1, 235). Winner of the Samkon Gado Award for most improved player during spring practice, Hursky takes over Rojas’ spot on the field with significant experience under his belt. He played in all 11 games last year, starting six times at various linebacker spots and finishing ninth on the team with 37 tackles.
“Nick has the biggest shoes to fill,” commented Rocco. “But to his credit, he came into spring practice and ran the defense well as a Mike linebacker. He is a physical kid who loves to play football, competitively. He is one of those guys who can just find the ball.”
The most seasoned veteran among Liberty’s linebackers is Brandon Duke (R-Sr., 6-0, 225), who has 29 games under his belt to go along with 132 career tackles. Last year, Duke, who is slated to start at Sam linebacker, posted 49 tackles to go along with a career-high 7.5 tackles for a loss.
“Brandon had a solid year for us last season,” added Rocco. “Brandon is a physical competitor and tough defender who can run well. He’s the kind of guy who’s going to show up and make a lot of plays each game.”
The final scheduled starter at the Will linebacker position was actually on the Flames’ sidelines last year, but had to sit out a season after transferring from Virginia in late August. A menacing force at 6-6, 260, Vince Redd was a two-year letterwinner with the Cavaliers before making the trek to Lynchburg.
“I recruited Vince out of high school and coached him at Virginia when I was the linebacker coach,” recalled Rocco. “Vince offers a very unique presence out on the playing field, as he has the ability to run quite well despite his size, a quality not often found at this level of football.
“I am really looking forward to seeing what Vince can do in terms of rushing the passer and covering space. I think he is going to create havoc for most offensive coordinators.”
A collective group of four players stood out in Rocco’s mind during spring practice in terms of reserve linebackers. Ian Childress (6-4, 220), Kyle O’Donnell (6-2, 220), Pat Parziale (6-1, 220) and Pierre Tinsley (6-0, 230) all showed signs of promise during the spring training season.
Childress brings the most playing experience, having seen action in all 11 games last year, where he recorded 11 tackles. Parziale followed closely behind, finishing with five tackles in 10 games.
“Ian is a tall, rangy outside linebacker who can run the field well,” commented Rocco of his reserves. “Pat had a solid spring, along with Kyle and Pierre. All four should give us some much-needed depth at linebacker throughout the year.”
Linebackers at a Glance
SLB Brandon Duke (R-Sr. 6-0 225)
MLB Nick Hursky (Jr. 6-1 235)
JLB Stevie Ray Lloyd (R-Sr. 5-11 235)
WLB Vince Redd (R-Sr. 6-6 260)
Terry Adams (R-Fr. 5-11 230)
Ian Childress (Jr. 6-4 220)
Kyle O’Donnell (R-Fr. 6-2 220)
Pat Parziale (Jr. 6-1 220)
Pierre Tinsley (R-Fr. 6-0 230)
Ben Balde (R-So. 6-1 225)
Patrick Bannon (Fr. 6-4 225)
Chad Brown (R-Fr. 6-2 240)
Michael Connolly (Fr. 6-2 230)
Cameron Gillespie (R-So. 5-10 250)
Mark Malvaso (R-So. 6-0 225)
Isaac Oglesby (R-So. 6-3 225)
Chris Spinner (R-Jr. 6-2 256)
Liberty’s defensive backs helped the Flames finish the year ranked inside the top 40 nationally in total defense. Liberty led the Big South by allowing only nine passing touchdowns, helping the Flames establish a new school record in fewest total touchdowns allowed in a season, 21 (previous record was 24 set in 1979).
The defensive backs mark the most experienced returning unit on the defensive side of the field. Six players listed on the preseason depth chart played in 10 or 11 games last year, including two who started all 11 contests.
“A number of these guys played for us in our program last season, and they have made significant improvements since this time last year,” remarked Rocco.
Pat Dickerson (5-10, 195), the elder statesman of the group as a redshirt senior, started all 11 games last year, posting career-high numbers.
He more than doubled his 2005 season tackle total (23), finishing last year with 53 stops, which ranked fourth on the team. “Pat is going into his senior year, and we are expecting him to have his best year ever,” stated Rocco of his returning free safety.
Returning at strong safety is Ryan Greiser (6-1, 205), who posted impressive numbers with 63 tackles during his first year on the defensive side of the ball. Greiser came to Liberty as a highly touted high school running back, but switched to the safety position last year, making an immediate impact to help him earn Big South second-team all-conference honors.
“Ryan was one of the most dependable and steady players we had defensively last year,” commented Rocco. “He has good ball skills, is mentally tough, has good speed and is an all-around solid player.”
Donald Manns (5-10, 180) and Patrick Calvary (5-9, 180) return for another go around at the two cornerback positions.
Manns saw limited playing time last fall, as he recorded two tackles in seven games; however, the Jacksonville, Fla., native impressed the coaching staff during the spring enough to earn a starting role heading into preseason camp.
Calvary is the most seasoned veteran of the group, having started 20 out of 22 games since joining the roster in 2005. Last year, the sophomore tallied 44 tackles, one off his freshman year total, and added six pass break ups.
But the slated starting four are not the only ones with playing experience in the defensive backfield, as Liberty returns Pierre Penn (5-11, 195), Chris Rocco (5-10, 190) and Tim Torrence (5-8, 165) for another season.
All three players saw playing time during 11 games last year. Torrence led the group with 26 tackles, followed by Penn’s 11 stops and Rocco’s six tackles.
Add into the mix a pair of bitter rivals, who dismissed bygones to join the Flames’ roster. Kent Hicks (6-2, 200) joined the program from Virginia Tech last spring, followed by Ryan Best (5-11, 190), who transferred from Virginia during the summer session, giving Liberty its deepest unit on the roster.
“We’re going to try to find jobs and roles for all of those guys as we go into the camp and into the season,” summarized Rocco of his defensive backfield. “We feel good about the depth and talent at these secondary positions. We’re really looking forward to getting outstanding play out of these guys this year.”
Defensive Backs at a Glance
LCB Donald Manns (So. 5-10 180)
FS Pat Dickerson (R-Sr. 5-10 195)
SS Ryan Greiser (Jr. 6-1 205)
RCB Patrick Calvary (Jr. 5-9 180)
Ryan Best (Sr. 5-11 190)
Chuck Duffey (R-So. 6-0 190)
Kent Hicks (R-Jr. 6-2 200)
Pierre Penn (Sr. 5-11 195)
Chris Rocco (So. 5-10 190)
Tim Torrence (So. 5-8 165)
Al Bailey (Fr. 5-9 185)
Jonathan Brummel (Sr. 5-8 175)
Larry Claiborne (Fr. 6-1 182)
Ron Gerondale (Sr. 6-1 190)
KaJaun Lee (Fr. 5-11 180)
Mannie Willis (R-So. 5-10 200)
Liberty’s 2006 “Season to Remember” included several different special teams’ accolades, as the unit truly excelled during the Flames’ revitalizing campaign.
Liberty was the only team in the nation to return three kickoffs for a touchdown, while the team finished the year ranked No. 3 in the nation by averaging 25.6 yards per kickoff return.
Liberty’s leading return specialists were Wynton Jackson (6-2, 188) and Dominic Bolden (5-10, 175). Jackson’s 29.4 yards per kickoff return average was the second-best mark in program history, while he ranked No. 20 in the country by averaging 11.5 yards per punt return.
Bolden finished the year second on the squad by returning seven kickoffs for 293 yards (41.9 average), including two for touchdowns, to become one of three players nationally to accomplish the feat in 2006.
“Wynton is one of the best return specialists in the country,” commented Rocco. “His speed is nearly impossible to defend and his ability to think on the field makes him deceptive and elusive.”
Late in the year, opponents elected to boot the ball deep into the end zone, trying to keep the ball out of Jackson and Bolden’s hands. However, the NCAA moved the kickoff yardage line back five yards (to the 30-yard line), meaning more balls are going to be returned this year, which could play to Liberty’s strength.
“There will be very few, if any balls kicked into the end zone this year, so most balls are going to be a returnable,” commented Rocco. “I think many teams are going to scheme different ways, blunt kick, line-drive kick, squib kick, etc., to try to keep us from getting into the normal rhythm of our return game. However, we spent a lot of time on our return game during the spring, and we feel very confident in our ability to return.”
A pair of seniors will battle for kicking duties throughout the year. Returning kicker Zac Kolegue (Sr., 5-11, 185) was slated to handle most of the kicking duties this year until the late summer addition of Virginia transfer Noah Greenbaum (Sr., 5-10, 180) leaves the position open heading into preseason camp.
Last year, Kolegue had the longest PAT streak in school history snapped at 34 and finished the year by nailing 29-of-32 point-after attempts. He shared field goal kicking duties with graduated senior Ben Beasley, with both players hitting on 4-of-8 field goal attempts.
Kolegue finished the year with 41 total points scored, the second-highest point total of his Liberty career. Greenbaum, on the other hand, graduated from Virginia last year, but chose to start his master’s degree at Liberty with one year of eligibility left. The two are scheduled to battle for all three kicking duties (kickoffs, place kicking and punting).
Returning for his third season at long snapper will be Dan Pope (6-3, 200), an “outstanding long and short snapper,” as described by Rocco.
Special Teams Depth Chart
KO Noah Greenbaum (Sr. 5-10 180)
Zac Kolegue (Sr. 5-11 185)
PK Zac Kolegue (Sr. 5-11 185)
Noah Greenbaum (Sr. 5-10 180)
P Zac Kolegue (Sr. 5-11 185)
Noah Greenbaum (Sr. 5-10 180)
H Chris Rocco (So. 5-10 190)
Spencer Landis (So. 6-2 185)
LS Dan Pope (R-Jr. 6-3 200)
Richard Thom (R-Sr. 6-3 235)
KR Wynton Jackson (R-Sr. 6-2 188)
Dominic Bolden (Jr. 5-10 175)
PR Wynton Jackson (R-Sr. 6-2 188)
Patrick Calvary (Jr. 5-9 180)
Awaiting the Flames after the conclusion of preseason camp in August, is a challenging 11-game schedule, featuring six home games and another Football Bowl Series (FBS) opponent.
“I am very excited about our 2007 schedule and the challenges that await us in facing these opponents,” stated Rocco. “To me, the schedule weighs out for us in an orderly fashion, giving us a chance to find out a little bit about ourselves early on.
“It’s going to give us an opportunity to make our run late in the year, after an open date and before we get into conference play. I think when you look at the schedule as a whole, it sits very well for us.”
The Flames open the year with a pair of home contests, as they host Tusculum (Sept. 1) and Shippensburg (Sept. 8) at Williams Stadium.
Liberty takes to the road for four of its next five games, starting with a trip across the Commonwealth to continue its series with William & Mary (Sept. 15). The following weekend, the Flames travel to North Carolina to take on former Big South foe Elon (Sept. 22).
Liberty closes out the month of September with a home game against St. Francis (Pa.) on the 29th, followed by a road game at Toledo on Oct. 6.
The Toledo contest will mark the third time the Flames and the Rockets have squared off on the gridiron and the first since Liberty and Toledo met on Sept. 9, 2003. The contest also accounts for the ninth-straight year Liberty has faced a FBS (formerly I-A) opponent.
After a bye week on Oct. 13, the Flames begin Big South Conference play with a road contest at Charleston Southern (Oct. 20).
The Flames return to the friendly confines of Williams Stadium for their next three games, starting with future Big South foe Presbyterian on Oct. 27. Liberty returns to league play by closing out its final homestand of the year when the Flames host Coastal Carolina (Nov. 3) and VMI (Nov. 10).
Liberty finishes the 2007 campaign on the road at Gardner-Webb (Nov. 17), ending the year in Boiling Springs, N.C., in a game which could determine the conference champion.
Football Schedule at a Glance
Sept. 1 Tusculum - 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 Shippensburg - 7 p.m.
Sept. 15 at William & Mary - 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Elon - 1:30 p.m.
Sept. 29 St. Francis (Pa.) - 7 p.m. (Parents’ Weekend)
Oct. 6 at Toledo - 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 Open Week
Oct. 20 at Charleston Southern * - 1 p.m.
Oct. 27 Presbyterian - 1 p.m. (Homecoming Game)
Nov. 3 Coastal Carolina * - 1 p.m. (Senior Day)
Nov. 10 VMI * - 1 p.m.
Nov. 17 at Gardner-Webb * - 1:30 p.m.
* - Big South Conference game
Big South Conference
The Big South Conference is entering its sixth year of sporting football, with the competition level rising each year.
Last season, Coastal Carolina became the first member institution to garner a coveted postseason berth. The three-time defending conference champion Chanticleers squared off against eventual national champion and No. 1 seed Appalachian State in the first round of the NCAA I-AA Playoffs.
The league stands just one year away from welcoming its sixth football member. Stony Brook, out of New York, is slated to join the league in 2008, giving the Big South the number of necessary teams to qualify for an automatic bid to the playoffs, which now is known as the NCAA FCS Championship.
The conference can petition the NCAA for the automatic bid once the league has six football-playing members for two years, meaning the league must wait until 2010 to pitch its request.
Next year, the league will also open its doors to Presbyterian, a former NCAA Division II program out of Clinton, S.C., who is making the jump to Division I athletics. Due to NCAA reclassification rules, the Blue Hose will not be eligible for official league standings and a conference title until the 2011 season.
Liberty’s Big South Preseason
QB Brock Smith Jr.
RB Rashad Jennings Jr.
RB Zach Terrell Jr.
WR Brandon Turner Sr.
TE Chris Luck R-Sr.
OL Stephen Sene R-Sr.
OL Eddie Pinigis R-Sr.
DL Steven Ackley R-Sr.
LB Stevie Ray Lloyd R-Sr.
DB Ryan Greiser Jr.
RS Wynton Jackson R-Sr.
Flames Fact: Liberty placed 11 players on the Big South preseason all-conference team, the most in program history and the second-highest total in conference history.
Big South Preseason Poll
1. Liberty (12) 87
2. Coastal Carolina (7) 79
3. Gardner-Webb (1) 63
4. Charleston Southern 43
5. VMI 28
(Numbers in parentheses indicate first-place votes)
Flames Fact: This marks the first time in program history Liberty is favored to win the Big South Conference title.
Lindy’s College Football
2007 Preseason Top 25
1. Appalachian State
4. McNeese State
6. New Hampshire
7. Portland State
8. Illinois State
9. North Dakota State
10. South Dakota State
11. Youngstown State
12. Southern Illinois
13. Central Arkansas
16. James Madison
18. Montana State
19. Eastern Illinois
20. Northern Iowa
21. Coastal Carolina
23. Texas State