Many starters return in Liberty as the focus remains on getting better

Liberty will host Struthers in week one.

Liberty Leopards High School Football - Youngstown, OH.

2017 Liberty Football Preview
Head Coach: Chet Allen, 3rd season (8-15)
Last Season: 5-5 (4-2), T-2nd in AAC Blue Tier
Division: VI (Region 21)

More:High School Football previews from other teams

The Good News
Returning Starters: Offense – 9; Defense – 7
Coach Chet Allen begins his third year at the helm of Liberty football. The Leopards have not had a head coach lead the program for three consecutive years since Jeff Whittaker stepped down in 2011 (1995-2011). Coach Allen saw his offense improve in scoring by 7.5 points from the previous season. In total offense, they saw a surge from 153.4 yards to 232.4 yards just last year. Senior quarterback Dra Rushton returns after leading the Leopards with 950 yards rushing (16 TDs) and 430 yards passing on 44 of 77 pass attempts (57.1%). Rushton also led the team in interceptions for the second straight year (3). Junior Jaylen McKinney will also be back in the fold after rushing for 411 yards on 106 carries (3.9 average) and 3 touchdowns. Senior Capone Haywood led the Leopards in receiving (11 catches, 133 yards) and finished fourth in rushing (152 yards). Senior Chris Edmonds is the leading returning receiver in yards per catch (13.0). Also back on offense are two stalwarts along the offensive line in Mohammad Yusuf and Derek Gilcher. On defense, Edmonds is back after leading the team in tackles (74) and quarterback sacks (5.5). Edmonds has compiled 139 defensive stops and 10.5 quarterback takedowns over the past three seasons. Simi Moananu (31 tackles), Haywood (37 tackles), and Rushton (35 tackles) will be asked to continue their solid play on defense.

Coach Allen points to the real strength of the program, “It’s their commitment – their want to get stronger and faster. It’s about the continuity and experience, leadership of our seniors and some underclassmen, and an understanding that great grades and discipline will benefit us in the long run.”

2017 Schedule
Aug. 25 – Struthers, 7
Sept. 1 – at Lakeview, 7
Sept. 8 – Pymatuning Valley, 7
Sept. 15 – at Brookfield, 7
Sept. 22 – Campbell Memorial, 7
Sept. 29 – at LaBrae, 7
Oct. 6 – Champion, 7
Oct. 12 – at Jefferson, 7
Oct. 20 – Newton Falls, 7
Oct. 27 – at Girard, 7

More:High School Football schedules from other teams

Challenges
Even with the number of returning starters the Leopards have, Allen knows that his team has to concentrate on getting better. “We have to focus on the little things to make big things happen. We’ll need to get more flexible and stronger, minimize turnovers and maximize takeaways.” The third-year head coach also views his team depth as being a weakness entering camp.

On defense, the Leopards must say good-bye to a trio of standouts in David Hunt (54 tackles), Alec Coman (44 tackles) and John Spivey (33 tackles). Can the defense continue to improve without such leaders? The defense went from a unit which allowed 281 yards in 2015 to 257 in 2016. The defensive unit will need more production from many from the senior class and underclassmen alike. On offense, former QB-turned wideout Andree Bowers finished third on the team a year ago with 84 yards receiving has graduated. The Leopards have holes which must be addressed this off-season.

Last 10 Years
Overall Winning Percentage: .500 (53-53)
Playoff Appearances: 4
Playoff Record: 2-4
League Championships: 4 (2008, 2012, 2013, 2014)
League Record: 34-21*
*-2007 Trumbull Athletic Conference; 2008-16 All-American Conference

2016 Results
Girard 33 Leopards 15
Leopards 20 Newton Falls 14
Jefferson 28 Leopards 13
Leopards 25 Champion 14
LaBrae 21 Leopards 0
Leopards 20 Campbell Memorial 14
Leopards 27 Brookfield 21 OT
East 16 Leopards 13
Leopards 28 Lakeview 21
Struthers 42 Leopards 12

2016 Team Stats
Scoring Offense: 17.3 (T-46th in Area)
Total Offense: 232.4
Passing Offense: 45.2
Rushing Offense: 187.2
Scoring Defense: 22.4 (27th in Area)
Total Defense: 256.7
…In the past 17 years, Liberty has permitted their opponents to score 24-points per game in a single season only three times.

Key Number
Since 1988 (29 years), the Leopards have dealt with just 7 losing seasons. Within that time span, they’ve advanced to the playoffs 8 times.

Featured Stat
Since 2012, Six Leopards have finished with 5 or more quarterback sacks in a season.
JaShaun Whitman – 8.0 (2014)
Jordan Walker – 7.5 (2013)
Cody BuCher – 6.0 (2012)
Chris Edmonds – 5.5 (2016)
Alex Carnathan – 5.0 (2014)
Joe Kangas – 5.0 (2014)

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