How inconsistent was the Liberty Lions' offense last season?
Their game against Atholton last Sept. 15 just about said it all.
After effectively using their passing game to move the ball early, the Lions threw five interceptions in the second half to lose the game, 9-6.
It was this kind of inconsistency on offense that kept the Lions under .500 and relegated to fifth place in the Central Maryland Conference, despite a solid defensive unit.
"Things would click in the passing game one week but the next week we wouldn't completea pass. It was the same story with the running game," Coach John Magee said.
"The two seemed to alternate. It was a matter of execution."
Indeed, consistent execution was something that Liberty sorelylacked.
And this season, things won't get much easier.
Most ofthe skilled position players from last year's 4-6 team (2-4 in the CMC) are gone, giving way to untested underclassmen. What's more, the Class 2A team plays seven of its 10 games against larger 3A and 4A opponents, giving it one of the toughest schedules around.
The only consolation for Magee is his team's healthy attitude and willingness to listen to instruction.
With the team's inexperience, however, it may take a lot of listening.
Gone from Liberty's lineup are quarterback Joe Brown (39-for-91, 489 yards) and running back Eric Snyder(689 all-purpose yards). In fact, there's only one returning starteron the entire roster, receiver/defensive back Gray Johnson, and six others with limited varsity experience.
Among the newcomers are Ross Yastrzemski, last year's junior varsity quarterback, who will battle for playing time with seldom-used backup Dan Reichard, and Brian Wingate, a talented offensive lineman sidelined last season with an ankle injury.
At the tailback spot, a pair of 5-10, 160-pound seniors also lack experience. Jeff Brown's resume consists of 20 carries for 62 yards last season, while Antion Williams has never taken a varsity handoff.
If the team has an outright strength, it's in the secondary.
Anchored by speedy seniors Johnson (34 tackles) and Scott Lingle (two interceptions), the stingy secondary might be the most consistent part of the team.
"If we can maintain our level defensively (23 forced turnovers last year), we certainly have a chance to match last year's record," Magee said. "We have some team speed, and thatwill help us both ways."
Magee plans to use that speed to the fullest, taking advantage of a quick, though unseasoned, core of receivers led by Johnson (seven catches for 70 yards, one touchdown). The Lions will mix up the offense by passing and running equally, and even throwing in an occasional option play.
"We're not big enough to overpower the defense," Magee said, "so we'll have to keep them off balance."
But keeping opponents off balance is easier said than done when you face a schedule like Liberty's.
Starting with game two, the team plays Atholton, Howard, South Carroll and Linganore, all 3A schools, in consecutive weeks, then faces Class 4A Frederick and Westminster in two of the following three weeks.
But such is life in the Central Maryland Conference. All Magee and company can do is work hard in practice and hope for some lucky breaks once the season begins.
"We try to find areas that need work in practice every day," he said. "Then we work on trying to improve those areas. If we work on the right things, then we should improve. That's ideal, but it doesn'talways work out."
If the Lions are to be successful this season, many areas of their game will have to work out.
On a consistent basis.