Leading up to the Flames' season-opening football battle against N.C. State on Sept. 3, LibertyFlames.com will be previewing each position around the gridiron.
Today, we wrap up our position-by-position previews by taking a look at the Flames' tight ends and fullbacks. During today's video package, Flames Sports Network correspondent Alan York had a chance to speak with tight ends coach H.T. Kinney, the program's run game coordinator and the person in charge of Liberty's extra blockers in the Flames' tight ends and fullbacks.
Fullback One of the keys to Liberty's ability to successfully rush the ball for more than 2,000 yards six out of the last nine years has been the play of its fullbacks.
The unsung hero position was held down by a newcomer last season, as Buffalo transfer Peter Gagliardi started all 11 games for the Flames at fullback.
"We will play Peter mostly at fullback this year, but because of his size and blocking ability, he could also see some time at tight end," commented head coach Danny Rocco. "He has a very bright future for us and he really did well for us in his first year with the program."
With Elliott Dutra moving to wide receiver during spring practice, Rocco will look to several different newcomers to add depth at fullback.
During the summer months, the coaching staff moved Matthew Baptiste from linebacker to fullback, where he secured the back-up role during August training camp. Following behind Baptiste on the depth chart heading into the season will two fresh faces to the program.
Leo Cardenas, a Westwood High School produce out of Westwood, N.J., was with the program during the spring, while Nicky Fualaau out of Todd Beamer High School in Federal Way, Wash., signed with Liberty during the summer.
Fullbacks at a Glance Front Runner Peter Gagliardi (R-So., 6-3, 240)
Contender Matthew Baptiste (R-Fr., 6-0, 215)
Up-and-Comers Leo Cardenas (Jr., 5-10, 205) Nicky Fualaau (R-Fr., 6-1, 220)
Tight End One of the keys to Rocco's offensive schemes since arriving at Liberty in 2006 has been the blocking ability of his tight ends.
Although Liberty's tight ends do not pull in future NFL Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez-like numbers, their efforts have not gone completely unnoticed. Until last year, Liberty's starting tight end had received first or second team All-Big South honors each year dating back to 2005. Tommy Shaver did the same "yeoman's type work" as his predecessors last year in his first full season as the starter at the position, but the rising senior did not receive the traditional conference accolade. He did manage to catch eight passes for 104 yards in 11 games for the Flames.
"Tommy Shaver is really coming into his own and has had a very good offseason," stated Rocco. "He has been a starter for a year or year and a half, depending on how you want to break it down. He is a big football player that can run and block."
Backing up Shaver and challenging for playing time this year will be Justin Gunn, Brandon Apon and Andrew Cordasco, three players who have started to develop inside the program.
Rocco has said that because of the versatility of his student-athletes, Liberty could interchange some of its tight ends and fullbacks at times during the upcoming 2011 season.
Tight Ends at a Glance Front Runner Tommy Shaver (R-Sr., 6-6, 285)
Contenders Brandon Apon (R-So., 6-4, 250) Andrew Cordasco (R-Fr., 6-4, 250) Justin Gunn (R-Jr., 6-4, 250)
Up-and-Comers Patrick Gibson (R-So., 6-3, 210) Dexter Herman (Fr., 6-2, 230) Garrett Long (Fr., 6-4, 215)
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