Liberty Red Devils

Experience reigns

Senior class bond, deep lines give Red Devils reason for excitement

By Jimmy Kirby
Courier Sports

LIBERTY — Liberty High School football coach Kyle Stewart is quick to respond when asked about the keys to success for his Red Devils in 2016.

Depth in the trenches and a core group of seniors who have played together for four years will be the primary components to the Devils reaching their goals, according to Stewart.

The Red Devils, Stewart said, are two-deep along the offensive line, with a few more who could gain playing time. This is a big key, as numbers have traditionally been low for Liberty teams and key players have had to pull double duty and play both offense and defense.

08-17 Page 1B.inddThe Red Devils have 13 returning players who saw time on the offense last season. While the offense moved the ball well on the ground, Liberty had a tough time finding the end zone and only scored 13.4 points per game last season.

Nine returning players got reps last season and gained valuable experience on defense for Liberty. The Red Devil defense played well at times in 2015, giving up a manageable 21.3 points per game.

But Stewart believes that the strength of this team will be his core group of seniors, many of whom have played on the varsity squad for four years, who will lead the team in 2016.

Seth Dover, Nick Reeves, Austin Huey, Austin Miller, Aaron Bates, Shaun Karr, Breck Dismukes, Josh Shuman, Jacob Herman and Bo Felton will be the ones to set the standard with work ethic, encourage kids to pick it up at practice and show up for everything we do.

“They know what is expected, and I am excited to see the energy they bring,” Stewart said. “I have to say a lot less because they are speaking out and helping everyone to be better.”

Stewart said the group of seniors are close friends and spend a lot of time with each other on and off the field.

Running the ball will again be the forte for the Liberty offense. The Devils will see if they can improve on the 1,803 total yards rushing from 2015. They averaged 180 yards per game and four yards per carry — not a bad average when most teams stacked the box to stop the run.

Stewart said fans should expect the Red Devils to run out of the shotgun and also spread the field at times this season. He said they have done well at 7-on-7 events this summer. The Red Devils will take what the other team gives them and utilize both the pass and run at times, striving to be balanced.

Returning at quarterback will be Huey and Reeves. Both saw considerable action at times last season under center. Huey is more the runner, as he gained 221 yards on the ground in 2015. He will be the leading returning rusher for the Red Devils.

Reeves missed the first part of last season due to injury. He ended up completing 18 of 50 passes for 121 yards last season. With the continued experience, Stewart said that Reeves is smart and should be improved this season. Both he and Huey will see action at quarterback this season and should rotate after several series.

The running game will return four to five players from last season, along with several newcomers.

Cole Murphy, Cavaugio Butler, Kevon Tebron, Aaron Bates, 2015 transfer Jaylon Jenkins, Hunter Powell, Shaun Karr and Clay Lollis will all see action in the backfield for the Red Devils this season. It will be interesting to see who steps up. The team will also need someone to be the bull in the middle from the fullback position to gain those tough yards. Tyler Renaud was the workhorse last season, with 741 yards on 140 carries, leading the Red Devils in both categories.

Colton Leroy, Michael Spruill, Dover, Ethan Harris and Miller will see action at wide receiver for the Red Devils. The group has combined for only two varsity receptions, so the competition is wide open this season.

The offensive line will be key to opening holes and protecting Huey and Reeves if the Red Devils are to improve offensively in 2016. Felton, Lucas Bates, Dylon Phillips, Herman, Dusty Owens, JT Howard, Dawson Lovell, Josh Shuman, Dismukes and Zane Boozer will all see action on the offensive line.

On the defensive front, Stewart said Herman is hard to block and will create havoc on the field for opposing runners and quarterbacks. Dover will see some action on the line and has good technique and quickness.

“He fires his hands well,” Stewart said of the senior.

Aaron Bates returns at linebacker and is a returning all-region player. He ledd all linebackers in all-region voting.

“He is a sure tackler and has a nose for the football,” Stewart said.

Bates will be a key to the Red Devil defense. He led the team in tackles with 70 in 2015. He also had 11 tackles for loss and twi sacks.

Murphy will lead the secondary, as he accounted for 41 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks last season.

Many of the linemen and running backs listed already will make up the remainder of the defense for the Red Devils.

Huey will again take care of the punt duties for the Red Devils. He had a very respectable 36-yard punt average last season.

Austin Kemp will handle the kickoff and PAT duties this season. Stewart said Kemp wanted to learn to kick and has been working with folks at Furman University this summer in preparation to the start of the season. Stewart said Kemp has the ability to kick it deep to about the 5-yard line with height on his kicks. He will play a key role in field position for the Red Devils and keep the pressure off the defense.

Stewart is excited to have on board a new defensive coordinator, as Troy Bowe has moved over from Daniel to coach the Red Devil defense. He brings a wealth of knowledge and was a part of two state championships with the Lions.

Former Walhalla head coach Jeremy Grogan will also join the staff, coaching outside linebackers.

These additions will give Stewart depth in the coaching ranks that he has not had in the past.

Josh Smith will take over calling the offensive plays, and Johnny Dameron has moved up from the middle school to work with the running backs. Former Red Devil player Brady Autrey is working with the quarterbacks.

The Red Devils will play a lot of familiar teams this season. The biggest change is that they will be non-region opponents. Liberty will open the season on the road at Pendleton and Walhalla before returning home for three consecutive games and play county rival Pickens. They will also pick up an old foe in Blue Ridge, and then take on Powdersville.

They complete the non-region schedule with an away game against West-Oak on Sept. 23, an open date the following week and a trip to Crescent on Oct. 6.

The Red Devils then begin region play with the new region alignment that features only four teams that play football. They will travel to Abbeville and take on the Panthers and finish the season with home games against Ninety Six and Southside Christian.

There are a lot of questions to be answered this season for the Red Devils. By the time the season is finished, Stewart ought to know a lot more about what his group of players have to offer.