As with any team, Liberty has opponents on its schedule that it would gain considerable joy in beating.
Wins over Raleigh County rivals Independence and Shady Spring would provide obvious bragging rights. The game with Indy is so special that the series adopted an official name — The Battle of ‘76 — last season.
Then there’s Westside. That has been the season opener for both schools for several years now, and getting started with a win can do a lot for momentum.
Unfortunately, wins have been hard to come by in recent years for Liberty. They only did so once last fall, but if you’re only going to win one game then the timing was perfect for the Raiders.
Staring at the possibility of going winless for a second straight year, Liberty instead beat Wyoming East 32-14 on the final night of the regular season. The win snapped a draining 25-game losing streak.
Winning this game had nothing to do with who was on the other side of the line of scrimmage. This one was all about what it could do for the program.
“We’ve got teams that we kind of want to beat worse than others,” said third-year head coach Mark Workman. “But the good thing about that win is that hopefully it carries us over into this year. When you end on a good note like that, it makes the offseason and the winter a lot easier. We had some good turnouts in the weight room.”
Getting a once successful program turned back in the right direction will take time, but there have certainly been signs of more enthusiasm.
“This is small-town Class AA football,” Workman said. “We would have 15-20 kids in there some days, and some days we would have eight or nine in there. But most of the time it was 15-20.”
And that carried over when 43 players turned out for the first day of practice last week.
“I think last year we had 32 or 33,” Workman said. “The year before that we had 45, but by the second day 10 of them quit. So far none have quit (this year).”
The biggest reason for Liberty’s struggles has been its youth. That could hurt again this year — of the four seniors on last season’s roster, three were starters on the offensive line.
But young kids did gain experience in skill positions, including running back Logan Dodrill and receiver Braden Howell. Dodrill is now a sophomore and Howell a junior.
Sophomore Ryan Simms finished his first season in style, rushing for three touchdowns and returning a kick for another in the win over Wyoming East.
The Raiders have already taken a hit with the loss of senior Nathan Gordon. The honorable mention all-state linebacker had six interceptions last season.
Still, at least Liberty now has a positive to try to build on.
“Considering what we’ve been through since I took over, we tell the kids all the time to trust the process,” Workman said. “We’ve got to change the culture. Hopefully that win got us rolling and we’ve turned the page. If they buy in to what we’re teaching, then they will see better things.”
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