The start of Hugh Freeze’s tenure as the new Liberty football coach was spent on the road recruiting, watching film of the incoming players and trying to evaluate the current Flames roster.
Now, his next task before getting back on the recruiting trail is finalizing his coaching staff.
Liberty has not officially announced any new hires, but Freeze already has brought in three new assistant coaches to begin shaping his staff of 10 assistant coaches.
Josh Aldridge, the former defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne, was credited by Freeze during his Wednesday press conference for recruiting safety Aubrey Williams to Liberty. Aldridge was Freeze’s first hire.
Tanner Burns will replace Scott Downing as the special teams coordinator. Burns, who was recently the special teams quality control coach at Arkansas, updated his Twitter bio to say “Special Teams Coordinator at Liberty University.”
Ben Aigamaua is the third assistant to join the staff. He has served in several capacities at Ole Miss since 2012 — graduate assistant on the offensive line, player personnel analyst and assistant athletic director for community relations — and played for Freeze at Lambuth.
Aigamaua has been a primary recruiter for junior college players since arriving at Liberty.
Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Joe Dailey and linebackers coach Josh Bookbinder have both publicly thanked their former players and the Liberty fans on social media as an indication they are not expected to be retained on Freeze’s staff.
Five holdovers from Turner Gill’s final staff at Liberty — defensive coordinator/safeties coach Robert Wimberly, wide receivers coach Kyle DeArmon, offensive line coach Aaron Stamn, running backs coach Mike Brown and SPUR coach Aaron Wilkins — assisted Freeze in recruiting over the past week and a half.
Freeze conveyed the remaining staff members have proven they want to remain on staff through their dedication to the program.
“It’s a very difficult process for me, personally. One of the things I’ve really prayed for over the last year and a half is humility and compassion,” Freeze said. “This job doesn’t always tend to lean toward feeling like you’re being compassionate. I’m in a unique position where I have a lot of great coaches that I know what they can do, … that I know could help us achieve what we want to achieve here. And I’ve been spending the last eight, nine, 10 days with a group of men and young men that I’m impressed with. So it’s very difficult.”
Landing two explosive wide receivers
The early signing period went almost according to plan for Liberty with 10 of the 14 verbal commits signing with Liberty.
There were, however, two interesting names that popped up Wednesday morning. Liberty landed wide receivers Shedro Louis and Treon Sibley, both former Akron recruits who signed in February 2018 but never enrolled there.
Both are schedule to be mid-year enrollees at Liberty.
Louis had roughly 1,700 receiving yards at Immokalee High School in Florida, and Sibley posted nearly 1,800 all-purpose yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior at Coventry High School in Ohio.
“We were fortunate that I had some ties to the staff that knew them,” Freeze said, “and I was the one they chose to pass the names on to first and there was only one weekend visit left. We were able to get them here.”
What’s next in recruiting?
Freeze said he and his staff will have a deliberate recruiting method beginning in January to prepare for the traditional signing day on Feb. 6.
The goal is to add more offensive and defensive linemen to give those two areas needed depth.
Freeze said his philosophy is to carry 15 offensive linemen and 16 defensive linemen.
With nine defensive linemen on scholarship now, “that’s an area of need,” according to Freeze. The Flames added four linemen Wednesday and will need to add another three to get to 16.
There were no offensive linemen signed Wednesday, but the Flames only lost three linemen to graduation and return seven of the top 10 linemen, with five talented freshmen ready to play this upcoming season.
Freeze added he will carry 10 wide receivers. The Flames added three Wednesday with three-star recruit C.J. Yarbrough joining Louis and Shibley.
There is one adjustment to Freeze’s offense compared to what Liberty had been running: “We don’t carry a fullback in our stuff, and they had some scholarships that we’ll adjust some in times to come.”
Plenty of kickers to go around
Liberty signed kicker/punter Jason Stricker, a two-star prospect, giving the Flames five of those players on the roster for the upcoming season.
There were three kickers on this past season’s roster: Alex Probert played in only four games after opening the season with a quad injury; Aaron Peart handled the majority of the kicking duties during the season; and Stuart Ashley was brought in as extra depth.
Aidan Alves handled all the punting duties and improved dramatically throughout the season.
Freeze did not say whether Stricker initially will be used as a kicker or punter.
“We’re going to play the best kid at both of them,” Freeze said. “That will get shaken out in the first part of fall camp in the season. It brings competition to the specialists, and we depend on them to provide a winning edge for us, and we’ve got to play the best one.”