Spring 2021 Magazine

With Christ-centered program, Liberty football now 6-0 under head coach Hugh Freeze

Each autumn, as the leaves change and the temperature dwindles, so does the number of undefeated teams in college football. One of the most surprising programs to emerge unblemished from its first six games of this unprecedented 2020 season is the Liberty Flames.

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Led by second-year head coach Hugh Freeze and in only their third season in the FBS, the Flames improved to 6-0 on Saturday with a 56-35 win over Freeze’s alma mater, Southern Miss. Quarterback Malik Willis threw for 345 yards and six touchdowns while rushing for another 97 yards and a score.

Last week, Liberty even picked up its first ever victory over an ACC opponent when it easily dispatched Syracuse on the road, 38-21. The Flames’ 6-0 start has earned votes in the AP poll for the first time in program history.

“We have the same message weekly,” Freeze said in his postgame press conference after beating Syracuse. “We put self aside and we look at what’s best for the team. I do think you have to have that echoed in the locker room. … When you have a staff that has chemistry and the kids see that, and you have leaders in the locker room that echo it and will call others out on it, then I think you have the makings of a special unit.”

The football program at Liberty, a large private evangelical Christian university in Lynchburg, Va., has seen unparalleled success since it hired Freeze in December 2018. He brought with him a wealth of top-tier college football success as the head coach at Ole Miss for five seasons. However, he resigned from the job in July 2017 amid NCAA recruiting violations and a personal scandal involving calls he made to an escort service.

Freeze’s reputation fell into disrepute after his undignified departure from Ole Miss, yet he said it is in the forgiveness that Christ offers that he has been able to recover. He addressed Liberty students and staff in 2018, his first public appearance since his resignation, to express his regret but also to share about Christ’s great forgiveness.

“When my walls came crumbling down around me, the faith that I stand on through the son of God, Jesus Christ — it is a solid rock. A solid foundation,” Freeze said. “And when all hell is breaking loose around you and everybody has their opinion about what is going on, and you know that you’ve hurt the heart of God, His love never changes. Ever.”

Freeze continued, “My mind is set. It is settled. My eyes are clear. My heart is full. My feet are pointed forward. And I am looking forward, with thanksgiving, to what God has for me and my family next, because of His great love, and His great forgiveness.”

Freeze joined the Sports Spectrum Podcast in March 2019 to discuss his faith and his journey to forgiveness.

“The foundational core of who I am is based on faith in God through His Son Jesus Christ,” Freeze said. “And that certainly doesn’t mean I’m perfect, as everyone knows, but I am forgiven and I want everyone to experience that forgiveness, that same grace and mercy that I’ve received.”

The Flames were eligible to qualify for an FBS bowl game for the first time last fall, Freeze’s first season, and they accomplished the impressive feat. Freeze and his team went 7-5 during the regular season and captured the Cure Bowl over Georgia Southern in December.

Those in the Liberty football program have their eyes on even greater postseason success in 2020 even as they hold to their one-week-at-a-time approach. This week, the Flames are on their bye.

For their next outing November 7, they face perhaps their toughest opponent so far this season when they go on the road to play previously-ranked Virginia Tech.

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