Football Hosts Spring PRactice, Starts Preparing For 2021 Season

Music blared from Williams Stadium Saturday, marking the start of the Red, White and Blue Preview. Open to a max capacity of 1,000 people, the practice session March 27 brought the most people Williams Stadium has hosted since Liberty’s football season in November to watch Liberty’s only public practice of the spring. 

The first part of practice consisted of various position groups running drills with their respective coaches. Following the drills, the offense donned red jerseys while the defense wore white. Offensive and defensive scrimmaged for several drives before the practice concluded.

Quarterback Malik Willis, wearing a black jersey to signify that he should not be tackled, got most of the reps for quarterback. 

“I thought Malik was fine,” Coach Hugh Freeze said. “ (I) thought he moved well in the pocket and kept his head and eyes down field which have been an area of concentration for us this spring. (I) thought he played solid.”

Several underclassmen quarterbacks, including Will Bowers, Sean Brown and Nate Hampton, all got reps alongside Willis, but most likely redshirt freshman Johnathan Bennett will play as Willis’ backup in the upcoming fall season. 

Freeze said that Bennett will need to be improve, though he did note that Bennett was not afforded many opportunities in his drives. 

In his postgame press conference, Freeze said he thought enthusiasm could have been higher, but was happy to see flashes of game readiness on both sides of the ball.

“I thought the defense created some negative plays and I thought the offense created some explosive plays, which are two things we put a big emphasis on,” Freeze said. “It’s hard to feel good in my shoes because it’s us against us right now.”

Notable newcomers to the squad include transfers T.J. Green and Skyler Thomas. Green was a running back at Utah who was unable to emerge from the depth chart while Thomas was a consistent starter at safety for Washington.

Liberty is coming off its best year in program history. The Flames started the year 8-0 and finished 10-1 as Cure Bowl Champions for the second straight year. The Flames defeated No. 9 Coastal Carolina in the Cure Bowl, marking the highest-ranking opponent the Flames have  beaten.

Coming into this year, expectations are equally lofty. Sixteen seniors are returning to the program for one last year. The NCAA has ruled that the 2020 football season would not count toward eligibility. 

Liberty’s schedule for the 2021 season includes trips to Syracuse and Ole Miss. The Flames are tied 1-1 all-time with the Orange, losing two years ago in Lynchburg before winning at Syracuse last year. Ole Miss will be a return home for Freeze, who previously coached the Rebels, leading them as high as No. 3 in the AP rankings during his time with the program.  

Liberty also has two exciting matchups to close out the season against Louisiana and Army. 

The Flames kickoff September 4 against the Campbell Camels. 

Luke Randle is the Asst. Sports Editor. Follow him on Twitter at @lukerandle02.

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