Ben Aigamaua has one of the more unusual relationships with Liberty football coach Hugh Freeze. The Flames tight end coach played for Freeze in 2008 and ’09 at NAIA Lambuth, and was hired to work in an assortment of roles at Ole Miss when Freeze took over that program in 2012.
In the decade that has transpired from when they first met, Aigamaua didn’t remember a time when Freeze was absent from practice for an extended period of time. Aigamaua revealed Freeze relishes each opportunity to be on the field, regardless if its a practice or game.
Freeze has not participated in the training camp since Sunday because of severe back spasms, according to the university, and he is currently undergoing medical treatment to relieve the spasms.
“I’ve known Coach Freeze since 2008, and this is the first time that he’s been out of practice for a couple of days,” Aigamaua said.
Liberty Athletic Director Ian McCaw said he did not have a timetable for Freeze’s return to practice. The players have today off from practice before returning Friday. The team’s second scrimmage is scheduled for Saturday at 11 a.m. at Williams Stadium, and an autograph session in the indoor practice facility will follow from 1 to 3 p.m.
The final week of training camp begins Tuesday, the day after classes begin for the fall semester.
“We’ll see how quickly things heal,” McCaw said.
Freeze’s absence was noticeable during Wednesday’s open portion of practice.
The fiery coach was not in his accustomed position of bouncing around the position groups and working with the respective players and coaches on their crafts.
Instead, members of the coaching staff picked up the slack, particularly with their energy.
Defensive coordinator Scott Symons sprinted 30 yards to celebrate with Kimani Donaldson following a successful special teams drill, and linebackers coach Kyle Pope did the same when Aubrey Williams maintained a block during the same drill.
“The energy level’s still there,” redshirt junior center Thomas Sargeant said. “All the other coaches have been doing a good job of making sure we’re doing the right thing, keeping us locked in and keeping the energy up during practice and not letting that be a distraction for us.”
McCaw said he has been in daily contact with Freeze through either calls or texts, and Aigamaua added the coaching staff has received daily instruction from Freeze on what he wants accomplished during each practice in preparation for the Aug. 31 season opener at home against Syracuse.
“Nothing’s changed. We can’t let off a day because of him not being here. That’s how he would want it, that’s what he expects from us, and that’s honestly a sign of our maturity as well,” redshirt senior running back Frankie Hickson said.
“Since he’s been here, he’s tried to let us grow up a little bit more, take the next step and go to the next level with what we’re trying to do here. Part of that is not reverting back to our old selves, maintaining what we have here.”
The practices have the same structure and pace in Freeze’s absence, with Symons and co-offensive coordinators Kent Austin and Maurice Harris ensuring there are no hiccups during the two hours.
Freeze did not name an associate head coach on his staff, a role that would allow that coach to assume the head coaching responsibilities during the head coach’s absence.
Former coach Turner Gill had an associate head coach last season in defensive coordinator Robert Wimberly.
“When [Freeze] got here, he hired and put together a great staff — position coaches, coordinators as well as support staff — that if a time like this ever arose, we would be alright,” redshirt senior right guard Dontae Duff said.
“It’s been very seamless and pretty good in his absence.”
Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.