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Liberty back to relevancy

Leopards have quick turnaround from last year’s 0-10 campaign

September 28, 2012
By MIKE McLAIN - Tribune Chronicle (mmclain@tribtoday.com) , Underthelights

LIBERTY - The crawl back to respectability has been more like a dash for the Liberty Leopards.

From a 0-10 season in 2011 to a 4-1 record and a 2-0 mark in the National Division of the All-American Conference, the Leopards are more than relevant again. They're ranked seventh in the Division IV, Region 13 computer standings and looking at a recent 18-game losing streak as ancient history.

"I think the kids realized that with the things we were doing that they could have success, and when we snapped the 18-game losing streak it was big for the mindset," Leopards first-year coach Brian Jones said. "Now we're building week to week and trying to do a good job as a staff to put the kids in a position for success. We're finding ways to win and having a lot of fun. We're not good enough yet to look past any day of the week."

The Leopards will return to AAC play tonight when they go on the road to play the Campbell Memorial Red Devils (3-2 and 2-0 in the National Division). The Red Devils, who are ninth in Division V, Region 17, have several key players returning from last season's 7-3 team that barely missed the playoffs.

"The first thing is that they are a good football team," Jones said. "They have good schemes on both sides of the ball, and they're well-coached. They play with confidence. It will be a tough matchup for us."

Jones can feel good knowing that senior running back Sherron Walls will line up behind quarterback Asim Pleas. Walls has already surpassed his rushing total of last season with 842 yards, including two efforts of 200-plus yards.

The Red Devils counter with talented senior quarterback Brandon Reyes, an all-conference performer last season with 1,450 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. Adrien Brown is a talented running back. Helping make it all work up front is Shaquon McWilson, a 330-pound all-state offensive and defensive tackle.

"Shaquon McWilson plays very well on the left side of the line," Jones said. "They have other guys that also do a nice job (of blocking). Defensively, they do a good job with their scheme. They like to come at you from different ways.

"The running back runs hard and they have receivers they like to get the ball to. The quarterback orchestrates the offense. As well as he goes, they go. They depend on him. We'll have to find a way of containing him."

Jones realizes that the Leopards are a work in progress. The passing game and defending the pass are areas that need to improve, and getting to the quarterback is another goal. Jones is also concerned about the number of penalties incurred each week.

"What I would like to see is improvement in the second half (of the season) in penalties," Jones said. "We have to be close to being one of most-penalized teams in the area. We're taking a stand every day to eliminate those and play more disciplined. We need to get better in every phase, special teams included. We try to get two percent better each day in each category."

Jones was an assistant coach at Youngstown State University the previous four seasons before replacing ex-Leopards coach Jeff Whittaker. So far things couldn't have gone much better. A win over the Red Devils would be another big step.

"We have to come out and play Liberty Leopard football and resolve that on Friday night," Jones said.

mmclain@tribtoday.com