Devils ready to roll – After productive summer, Liberty is coming out of the gates focused


By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

LIBERTY — In high school football, every season starts with belief in your program, and this year is no different for coach Kyle Stewart, who is entering his fifth season as head coach at Liberty High School.

Coming off a 4-6 season that could easily have ended up 6-4 or even 7-3 with a few 08-19 Page 1B.inddbreaks, Stewart believes his team will do well because the players have put in the time in the offseason to make it successful.

Stewart turned over the weight program to coach Josh Smith and says he has done a good job handling it.

“This has been the best summer of workouts that we have had,” Stewart said. ” They have just gotten after it.”

Stewart feels he has a good nucleus of guys who have the right attitude.

“We have a number of guys who wrestle and have developed a good strength regimen with lifting weights,” he said. “It has helped our football team to have a mental toughness about them, and I believe it will filter over into our football program.”

Stewart said a key this season is teaching the team to be ready to play each week. The Red Devils, who will open their season hosting Crescent on Friday, are playing in week zero for the second year in a row.

“(Last season) was the first time we played in week zero, and we just weren’t prepared like we needed to be, even though we came away with a win,” he said.

Stewart said he felt his team improved as the season went along last year, but he wants to make sure the Devils are ready to come out of the gate focused and prepared when they open the season Friday.

Stewart said last season he had to tweak his offense as the season went along to utilize the talent he had on hand.

This year’s squad will be built from the inside out based on returning offensive and defensive linemen, according to Stewart. After having a very inexperienced team two years ago with freshmen and sophomores starting, he now has juniors and seniors with varsity experience under their belts.

Returning and playing both ways at times on the lines will be seniors DeAndre Mansell, Charlie Meinders and Trace Moore. Austin Hickey, Spencer Taylor and Nathan Bolding will also provide depth for the interior.

Juniors returning up front will be Jacob Herman, Bo Felton, Michael McGaha, Josh Shuman and Breck Dismukes.

Stewart said if the Red Devils can develop some depth and rotation, it could mean the difference for some game outcomes.

“We have to play so many guys both ways that we get worn down toward the end of games,” he said.

The Red Devils have 38 players listed on the varsity roster entering the season, with a few sophomores sprinkled in. With the new high school league rule change this year from allowing players to participate in eight quarters per week to one game per week, small programs like Liberty will have to make decisions on whether to hold certain players for possible Friday night action or play them on Thursday night on the JV squad. That definitely will cause a coach to toss in his sleep during the course of the season. It could also mean less depth for programs and even jeopardize JV schedules if teams don’t have enough players to dress out and play.

The Red Devils lost leading running back Jordan Bash from last year’s squad but return Eddy Mathis who has been a four-year varsity player. Stewart points to Mathis’ presence for leadership and expects big things from him this season. Last season Mathis was the second-leading rusher behind Bash with 320 yards on 45 carries while playing in only six games due to an ankle injury.

Tyler Renaud (53 carries for 282 yards), Shaun Karr (78-283) and Kris Murphy (69-271) return to the backfield for the Red Devils as well to bring experience to the running game. Sophomore Cavaugio Butler is expected to see some time in the backfield as well, while Aaron Bates will see action at the fullback position.

Nick Reeves was expected to be the starter at quarterback for the Red Devils this season but will be out until around the first week of September. Reeves, a junior, was 4-for-12 passing for 49 yards in a backup role last season. Stewart said Reeves is very intelligent and makes good decisions and is looking forward to getting him back during the season.

In the meantime, junior Austin Huey will get the call under center to start the season. Huey has a bigger body than Reeves and will adapt well to the position, Stewart said. He will gain valuable experience by default.

Brayden Shirley will be back at tight end for the Red Devils. He had five receptions for 84 yards a year ago. Seth Dover and Dylan McCall also return at the receiver position. Also seeing some action at receiver for the Red Devils will be Cole Murphy, Austin Miller and Colton Leroy.

Expect the Red Devils to continue to throw to their backs as well to complement their passing game.

Defensively, a lot of the same players will see action for the Red Devils. Liberty improved its scoring defense last season, a change that kept the Devils in a lot of ballgames. Stewart said he wants to put his best players on the defensive side of the ball.

“They will play on defense, and if they need a break, it will be on the offensive side where I will give them a break,” he said.

Stewart said the key to this season will be to cut down on turnovers, be effective in the red zone and develop depth. He is excited about what this season holds. He is looking for some guys to blossom and provide a spark for a successful season.

When the lights come on Friday night against Crescent, Stewart will find out how focused and prepared this year’s squad will truly be.