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Flames head coach Hugh Freeze had a special stand set up so he could see over his bench to call plays against New Mexico on Saturday, Sept. 28. 

Hugh Freeze’s back has steadily improved over the past three weeks thanks to Liberty’s front-loaded home slate. The Flames played three straight games at Williams Stadium, which allowed Freeze’s surgically repaired back to heal and not deal with the hassle of traveling for road trips.

Liberty is slated to play at New Mexico State at 8 p.m. Saturday, and Freeze is uncertain of his travel itinerary with a lengthy flight in store for him and the team.

“I’m not sure. I haven’t talked to our administration or Jim [Nichols, Freeze’s chief of staff] yet about that, the plan to get me there,” Freeze said. “I’ll be there one way or another. Am I ready to sit straight up for the 4-hour flight? I don’t know. I hadn’t talked to the docs about any of that yet. I don’t sit down much in the office. I lean over on that walker some when I get tired of sitting; it does not feel good to me yet. I don’t know. I don’t know the plan. I sure would like to fly with the team if at all possible. We’ll cross that bridge sometime this week.”

Freeze was flown to Lafayette, Louisiana, on a private jet the day of the Flames’ matchup with Louisiana on Sept. 7. He was forced to coach the game from a medical chair in the visiting coaches’ booth after he suffered a setback roughly 10 days prior when fluid built up in the area where Dr. Dilan Ellegala performed the surgery.

Freeze has coached from a raised podium — his “NASCAR pit box” — behind the home bench at Williams Stadium the past three weeks, and would likely need to walk the sideline at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

Liberty has an off week following this first of two matchups against the Aggies this season, which will allow Freeze more time to have his back heal.

“It’s my first real trip on the road because I didn’t feel like Lafayette was real to me,” he said. “It just didn’t feel right.”

Mack’s emergence

Redshirt junior running back Joshua Mack displayed a wide smile Saturday night after his 14-carry, 95-yard outing against New Mexico. He showed a burst in the third quarter on back-to-back runs that netted 17 and 38 yards, and it was his best showing since transferring to Liberty from Maine.

Mack’s role has steadily increased as the season has unfolded. He has led the team in rushing yards in two of the past three games and has received the most carries (24) over that span.

The added workload is a result of one aspect: practice.

“It’s by the fact that he’s learning how to practice, and that’s just the truth. He didn’t know how to practice when we got here, and I don’t think he’ll mind me saying that, I’ve told him that for a long time,” Freeze said of the running back who was primarily used on the scout team last season.

“As he started to learn how to practice, his playing time has increased. It’s not a talent issue, it’s not that anything other you can’t be given anything. You’ve got to practice like the rest of your teammates. Once you start doing that, you’re talented enough to get your shots, and he’s made the most of them thus far.

“This is a new week and we’ll see how he practices. I know how Frankie’s going to practice, I know how Peytton’s going to practice, and I think he’s learned that now, hopefully, and he’s seen the success that comes with it. I expect nothing but what he’s done the last few weeks and his carries would continue.”

Mack is second on the team in rushing attempts (41) and rushing yards (247).

Injury update

Freeze listed three players on the injury report during his Monday press conference.

  • On defensive tackle Devonte Lloyd, who missed last week’s game because of a bulging disc in his back: “I think Lloyd is a little further away than Bejour.”
  • On cornerback Bejour Wilson, who has missed the past two games because of a foot sprain: “Bejour looks better and better. How far will he come this week? I don’t really know right now.”
  • On cornerback Emanuel Dabney, who suffered a hamstring injury in the second half against Hampton and did not dress against New Mexico: “Dabney looked good yesterday, so hopefully we’ll get him back. If we can get him and Bejour back, it sure will help the secondary rotation.”

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Damien Sordelett covers Liberty University athletics and local golf for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5550.

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