Liberty football opens fall practice with eyes on earning first bowl game appearance

LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ) -- The Liberty Flames kicked off the football preseason Sunday with the start of fall practice and media day.

There's some buzz surrounding the program, with much of it generated in the offseason when LU hired Hugh Freeze to take over the head coaching duties.

Freeze resigned as head coach at Ole Miss in 2017 after the school reportedly found phone calls to a number associated with a female escort service. That, along with multiple NCAA violations, kept Freeze out of football until he signed on to coach the Flames back in October.

But the focus now is on the task ahead and Freeze, along with each player position group, pledged a unique commitment to the team before camp started.

"The quality I want to bring that I've learned through the years is I want to bring a selflessness to the team," Freeze said. "The times that people, myself, anyone else have made selfish decisions, the results are not what you like. Not a whole lot of joy and peace comes with that. But man, when you really give of yourself to something bigger than yourself, there's a lot of joy that comes with that."

Freeze's arrival coincides with the team's first year as a full-time independent FBS team.

LU will return its leading passer in Stephen "Buckshot" Calvert, and leading rusher and receiver, in Frankie Hickson and Antonio Gandy-Golden.

On defense, the Flames also have their 2018 leader in sacks, Jesse Lemonier, back, as well as their top tacklers, Elijah Benton and Solomon Ajayi.

The Flames played an FBS schedule last year, but this year the team can officially become eligible for a bowl game - something that is not lost on the locker room.

"We were thinking about that last year," said Gandy-Golden. "Of course, we took it one game at a time, but the ultimate goal is to be good enough this year to be able to make the bowl game."

"We talk about it all the time," said redshirt junior safety Isaac Steele. "We break down on 'Bowling on Three.' We're really excited. We're going to take advantage of our chance that we get."

But moving up to FBS doesn't come without its challenges.

"Everybody's not going to be our size," said Calvert. "We're a small FBS school now, so playing these big-time schools, seeing how they really look and stuff, it kind of led us into this moment right now. We actually witnessed how it looks, and how it's supposed to be done, and now, we can actually apply that, and we could do what it has to take to make it look good."

There will be no cupcake to start the season. Liberty will open up in Lynchburg against Syracuse on August 31.