Home Turf: 5805 Bartholow Road, Eldersburg
Head Coach: Jeff Kent (seventh season)
2011 Record: 4-6 overall, 3-4 county
Liberty High continued a recent trend last fall. After losing four of its first five games, the Lions won three of their final five to finish at 4-6.
Since 2007, Liberty has posted a 17-8 record in the season's second half. But the Lions haven't been to the playoffs since 2008 because they don't post enough wins in the season's first half.
"We need to be ready every week," said Jeff Kent, entering his seventh season as the Lions' head coach. "Those teams in 2007 and 2008 rose up immediately. They didn't wait until halfway through the season. We've been very strong at the end of the season the last few years, but I certainly want to do it a little sooner."
Kent has a strong nucleus returning from last year's squad, whose signature victory over Winters Mill knocked the Falcons out of the playoffs.
The Lions will be hard-pressed to replace Bobby Conlon, a two-way standout who led the team in scoring, rushing and tackles last season. After gaining 334 yards and averaging 6.9 yards per rush a year ago, senior Frank Coughlin will get the bulk of the carries. Coughlin will rely on veteran offensive tackle John Bender to open the holes.
"We've made a commitment to run the football, but we understand that the passing game is important, too," Kent said. "I'm excited to have Frank back. He's a competitor who wants to get into the end zone."
Handing off to Coughlin will be senior quarterback Tim Anderson, who earned the starting job midway through last season and brings a steadying presence to a Lion offense that averaged 23 points a game in the second half of 2011.
"Last year, Tim got some experience that he can build on," Kent said. "I think he responds well to challenges, and he's worked very hard during the off season. He's a very intelligent and focused young man."
Anderson will throw to several receivers, including a wideout corps that includes Mike Frank, Mike Reigner, Chris Ricks, Travis Heffler, Bobby Summersgill, Aziz Sanusi and Dirk Hutchinson. A.J. Robbins, Liberty's top-notch placekicker and punter, will see action at tight end along with the team's tallest receiver, 6-5 Brandon Cavender.
Reigner and three-year starter Casey Shea, both seniors, will anchor the defense. Reigner is the team's top returning tackler (59), and his intensity and leadership from the linebacker spot will help a unit that lost leading tacklers Conlon and Zach Stirn, and held opponents under 20 points in just three of 10 games last season. Bender, Seth Vinson, Dan Hornberger and Curt Howard are expected to comprise the defensive front.
"Casey started as a sophomore and junior, and it's nice to have his experience," Ken said. "Mike is a real strong leader who isn't shaken by anything and will set the tone for the defense."
The Lions' first-half schedule won't be easier this season. Liberty faces three teams that made 2011 postseason appearances (Williamsport, Thomas Johnson, and Walkersville), one that narrowly missed the postseason (Westminster), and another that is considered a leading contender for the county title (Manchester Valley).
Liberty will have to win at least a couple of those games to keep postseason hopes alive.
"Walkersville and TJ were two of the best teams in the state last year, and Williamsport made it to the playoffs," Kent said. "Our guys faced adversity early on, but they never gave up."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun