March 27, 2021 : By Jacob Couch - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
On a beautiful spring Saturday morning, Flames Nation had the chance to watch their team in action once again during the Red, White, and Blue Preview at Williams Stadium, which consisted of warmups, drills, and a scrimmage, mimicking a regular Flames game day atmosphere.
The practice session at Williams Stadium was part of Liberty’s annual Spring Practice workouts and was open to all current Flames Club members and current Liberty Football season ticket holders. Seating was limited to 1,000 fans. The event was broadcast online (watch here), hosted by Alan York, the “Voice of the Flames,” and Paul Rutigliano, York’s counterpart on football game day from the radio booth.
“It’s great to see a lot of our football parents here and families and a lot of our fans are rolling in here as well, Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw said during an interview on the broadcast. “(There’s) a lot of anticipation to see a preview of our 2021 Flames team.”
The scrimmage began with redshirt junior quarterback Malik Willis commanding the starting offense while the roster’s other four quarterbacks also rotated into the action.
“It’s been a different spring for me when you evaluate the fact that we have pretty much everyone returning that played significant snaps for us last year,” said Head Coach Hugh Freeze said in a press conference after the scrimmage. “We had some success with those kids, so it’s now about making us deeper and better,”
The Flames return 10 out of 11 starters on both sides of the football and 87.1 percent of their offensive production from 2020 (returning players accounted for 366 of Liberty’s 420 points scored last season).
Flames social media accounts also highlighted the spring preview, beginning with an Instagram live special with Willis before the scrimmage began, along with insight and updates from the morning’s action throughout the day.
Liberty will be building on its “season of firsts” from 2020, when the Flames earned their first-ever national ranking and first win over an ACC opponent, had the best start in school history (8-0 to start 2020), and recorded their first-ever win over a top-25 FBS program and back-to-back bowl game wins.
“No one would have believed we are where we are at this point,” McCaw said. “Two full years into the FBS and to finish this season 10-1 and to win a bowl game and be ranked No. 17 in the nation is far beyond anything we could have dreamed about.”
“It all starts with the vision Dr. Falwell had 50 years ago to Train Champions for Christ,” he continued. “That’s what unifies all of us, and I think that’s partly why we do work so well together. We all have a common worldview and we all have a common faith and we’re all seeking to help student-athletes reach their full potential athletically, academically, socially. With those underpinnings of our program it really does bring a lot of like-minded people together and we’re just very, very blessed to have a lot of extraordinary people in our athletic program.”
In 2020, Liberty defeated a pair of ACC foes in Syracuse and in-state opponent Virginia Tech. The two wins made Liberty the first non-Power 5 team to post a pair of wins over ACC schools in the same season since Houston in 2015.
The Flames finished the season with a 10-1 record, tying the program’s record for wins in a season (Liberty finished the 2008 season with a 10-2 record).
This upcoming season, the Flames will be able to add yet another explosive player to their offensive arsenal, former Utah running back T.J. Green, who had a 70-yard touchdown run during Saturday’s preview.
“(The spring) has been fun. Practice has been very competitive… I just try to do my job and fit into my offense as best I can,” Green said.
With last season’s Cure Bowl win over its former Big South rival Coastal Carolina, Liberty became the second transitioning team in NCAA history to win consecutive bowl games during its first two full seasons at the FBS level. They will look to add a third consecutive bowl victory to their trophy case after this coming season.