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2019 Football Preview: Liberty looks to ‘establish a new identity’ this fall

Returning Liberty quarterback Nate Kent throws a pass on the first day of football practice in Eldersburg Wednesday morning, August 14, 2019.
Returning Liberty quarterback Nate Kent throws a pass on the first day of football practice in Eldersburg Wednesday morning, August 14, 2019. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Michael Spitz said if there’s anything to be expected from this year’s Liberty football squad, it’s intensity.

It’s the same level that carried the Lions to a perfect 10-0 regular season last fall for the first time in program history. That intensity also helped the team earn a spot in the Class 2A West playoffs and challenge eventual 2A state champion Oakdale early in the contest.

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Quarterback Nate Kent earned 2018 Times Football Player of the Year in helping lead the Lions to success in his debut with the team. He dominated the passing game with 1,511 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was also the Lions’ leading rusher with 646 yards and 10 TDs.

“It’s just fun,” Lions coach Larry Luthe said. “This is their own team, a new team, so we get to try and establish a new identity.”

The Lions boast 31 varsity players that includes several talented returners on both sides of the ball — McClain Butler, Kyle Hutchinson, Kent, and Peyton Scheufele are all back from last year’s all-county first team. Butler worked both ways for the Lions and led the county with 123 tackles. Hutchinson compiled 30 tackles, and Scheufele contributed with 51 tackles on defense.

Spitz, who led Liberty with three interceptions, is also back to support the team on both sides.

Chris Darminio, the Lions’ leading receiver with 27 receptions for 550 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018, graduated, along with defensive strongholds Wes Kirin, Ryan Luthe, and Justin Pellicciotti.

Senior leadership will be key to helping the Lions discover this new “identity,” but the players are already welcoming the opportunity with open arms.

“We want to go even farther than last year,” Hutchinson said. “Not so much on the county level, but the state level, and it starts with leadership. It starts with the seniors all the way down to teach out young guys what they can expect to experience on the varsity level.”

The reigning county champions come out of the gate with a tough first few weeks of play. The Lions host Class 3A powerhouse Linganore to open the season this Friday. Wakersville and Century are on the horizon, and the Lions added Marriotts Ridge to their schedule for a Week 6 clash.

“We have to focus on the little things and sharpen them up as we go,” Scheufele said. “We have to take it week by week so when the postseason comes, we don’t want to have little mistakes. We’re trying to go 9-0 to get the higher seed.”

Luthe said the implementation of a nine-game schedule allows programs to schedule challenging games in order for teams to find out a little bit about themselves before the playoff picture opens.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to go play Linganore and to follow that up with Walkersville, Marriotts Ridge,” Luthe said. “Obviously, there’s some good teams in the county so it makes football challenging and we’re looking forward to seeing where we fit in with those upper-tier teams.”

Luthe is 43-21 in seven seasons at Liberty. The Lions went 2-8 in 2013 and ended the season with six straight losses, but they haven’t had a losing record since. They went 8-4 and made the playoffs in 2014, and qualified in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

“When we first got to Liberty, we wanted to teach our guys how to win and I feel like the staff has done a great job and with this group, we have to decide how much do they want to win," Luthe said. "That’s the challenge, and we have the target on our back this year. That’s a different beat for us.

"Usually we were chasing and now we’re going to be chased so we have to find out if we have the mental fortitude to accept that challenge with people giving us their best every week.”

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