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Football Preview: Liberty still 'hungry' despite lower numbers

Football Preview: Liberty still 'hungry' despite lower numbers
Liberty junior George Cancro reaches for a pass while covered by senior Chris Jones during a Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018 football practice in Eldersburg. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Liberty’s football players and coaches went through practice Tuesday afternoon while music played from a large speaker connected to a cellular phone.

Songs ranging from rap to rock blared over the lower stadium field at the school, where coach Larry Luthe and his assistants put the Lions through an incremental session. Players swayed and bobbed their heads between drills.

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Luthe gave his charges a break and walked toward the source of the sound.

“Not my phone,” the seventh-year coach said to no one in particular, with a slight smile. “Not my music.”

The genre of tunes likely won’t be questioned if the Lions keep their winning ways going in 2018.

Liberty has 32 wins over the last four seasons. The Lions went 5-1 last fall in the Carroll County Athletic League and finished 8-3 with a Class 2A West Region playoff berth, their third in four seasons.

This season’s roster has 30 players on it, but includes several talented returners from 2017 — a stat that pleases Luthe as his team prepares for Friday’s opener against Boys’ Latin.

“If we stay healthy,” Luthe said, “we’ll be all right.”

Liberty graduated five players from the Times all-county first team last season, but return three selections in juniors McClain Butler and Ryan Luthe, and senior Justin Pellicciotti — the team’s resident DJ for its musical practices.

Luthe and Pelliccotti (both listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds) play defensive back for the Lions’ 4-2 scheme, while Butler roams the middle as a linebacker. Also contributing on that side of the ball should be senior linebackers Sammy Nehme (5-10, 180) and Wes Kirin (5-10, 170).

Liberty brings back six starters from its defense — Butler led the unit with 91 tackles, and Pellicciotti pulled down five interceptions. Luthe had two picks and eight pass breakups.

The Lions’ spread offense features Luthe and junior Michael Spitz (6-0, 175) as running backs, with senior Nicholas Henderson (5-10, 165) in the backfield as well. Pellicciotti and senior Chris Darminio (6-3, 165) lead Liberty’s receiving corp.

And there’s a new face under center — junior quarterback Nate Kent, who transferred from Westminster in the offseason.

“It’s been pretty good so far,” Kent said. “The offenses are similar, and it’s not hard to change from that. And the coaching has helped a lot with that.”

Kent (6-1, 190) saw playing time last season with the Owls, and came in during their regional playoff game against Linganore when starter Christian Etchison went down with an injury. Kent ran for a third-quarter touchdown to keep the game close, but Westminster fell in the 3A West final.

Liberty is hoping Kent’s experience translates into a smooth transition for its new quarterback.

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“It gave me more confidence, especially the [playoff] game,” Kent said about his sophomore season. “That helped. I had worked pretty hard for it, so I knew what I could do. Coming over here, the offense is the same. It hasn’t been hard.”

Liberty quarterback Nate Kent throws a pass during a Thursday, August 16, 2018 football practice in Eldersburg.
Liberty quarterback Nate Kent throws a pass during a Thursday, August 16, 2018 football practice in Eldersburg. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

The Lions might be somewhat inexperienced on the offensive line to start the season — they graduated a pair of first-team all-county picks in Zach Morris and Josh Ruehl — and Larry Luthe said putting together a cohesive unit remains a work in progress.

Liberty also graduated all-purpose talent Noah Rohrer, who collected more than 750 yards on offense and was the Lions’ leading receiver (26 catches, 448 yards).

Only four starters from last year’s offense are back this fall.

Still, Luthe said the team’s goals won’t waver.

“Because we’ve been successful, I think that’s one of the reasons our numbers are down on the varsity,” the coach said. “Some of the kids weren’t willing to make the commitment. … We expect kids to put the effort in outside the season. We encourage all of our kids to be multi-sport athletes; it’s not like we expect them to focus on football. But we also expect that work in the weight room and things that would make them better athletes all over.

“The kids that are here are very hungry.”

One of those kids is Butler, who admitted he’s growing tired of going up against his teammates in practice with preseason. That changes starting Friday night.

“We’re still super motivated,” Butler said. “We’re small in numbers but nothing has changed with us. We’re still going hard every day.”

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