Liberty Eagle Football gears up for another run

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Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2016 6:00 am

by Brian Ingalls

Sports Writer

“We’re ready go.” That’s how Liberty Eagles Head Coach Darin Acklin put it on Saturday, describing the mood around Eagles football this week. Believe it or not, the start of the 2016 season is now less than two weeks away, and despite the addition of both Mountain Grove and Ava to the Class 2 District tournament, the expectations for Liberty remain high.

“We have to put the perfect pieces of the puzzle together to kind of get back to where we want to get back,” said Coach Acklin as he talked about this year’s squad of over 40 players, “and that’s winning a District title and having a chance to go and play for the Championship.”

The Eagles were certainly one of the top Class 2 teams in the State of Missouri last year, coming within 52 seconds of defeating the eventual State Champion Lamar Tigers in the quarterfinals. But those days are history. The opportunity for this season to get back to that level now passes to a new crop of players, and a returning group of young men who have been there before.

“We have a lot of veterans coming back,” said Coach Acklin, “When we say veterans, we have a lot of kids that were sophomores and juniors coming back to play for us. Even though we’re moving them around a little bit, they’re doing alright. They’re understanding.”

Several of those players made a big impact for Liberty in 2015. They include now senior quarterback Josh Pruett, who was named All-State last year and established himself as a dual threat both running and passing the ball. When teams are game-planning to stop him, they’ll also be looking for ways to contain senior wide-receiver Brenton Bush, who finished last season with 47 catches for 760 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Bush is one of several explosive players for the Eagles that will give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares. Junior Koel Orchard and senior Marcos Rodriguez provide a one-two punch at running back, while Orchard will see time at wide-receiver as well.  Throw in Max Rudolph, Jackson Conner, Andrew Holden, and Colten Foster at receiver, and the Eagles have the ability to score points in a hurry. Up front, returning starters such as seniors Adam Shaw and Chase Smith anchor the offensive and defensive lines, along with junior Caleb Clark and sophomore Brodyn Kenaga.

On Saturday, Acklin also addressed reports circulating this summer about transfer students coming in to bolster the already talented roster. “Nope. Nope. And No. We have zero,” he said, “They all couldn’t make it. Or they all moved. It’s just the old Mountain View-Birch Tree Liberty Eagles.”

And that might be more than enough, at least if the Eagles can stay healthy. As usual for a Class 2 team, key injuries can impact a game or a season. That has been a factor for Liberty during the summer. When the Eagles traveled to Western Illinois State for an annual football camp, a hard hit to Josh Pruett, and a hamstring injury to Marcos Rodriguez, led to both of those players being held back as a precaution, and other players moving to different positions to compensate. Expect similar precautions at the Jamboree on Friday.

You’re not going to see much from me,” explained Acklin, “Right now, we may play a lot of number two’s and number three’s and we might not look very good. But my number one’s, I don’t want them in there any longer than to get the game speed down.  Marcos Rodriguez will not play. I need him healthy against Cape Central. And I wouldn’t play Josh, but I have to because my number two quarterback right now is Marcos.” Even with Pruett in at quarterback, he’s not expected to do much more than hand the ball off a few times. “I’m not going to put them in jeopardy,” Acklin said, “One’s will probably play about 16, maybe 20 plays, and then they’ll be out and my two’s and three’s will play a lot.”

Acklin mentioned the game against Cape Central in week one. If the name is familiar, it’s probably because the Class 4 Cape Central Tigers were playing in the final four last season against Webb City. The Eagles have raised their expectations and scheduled teams to match. Liberty also travels to Aurora to take on the Houn Dawgs on August 26. Aurora also made the final four last season, doing so in Class 3 after a 14-12 win over Mountain Grove.  The Eagles start play in the South Central Association the following week on September 2, with a game against Thayer. That’s two final four teams, and last year’s second place finisher in the SCA to start the season.

Get ready for some football.

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