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Liberty ready to push for playoffs
Flames, picked 1st again, will face high expectations
Amidst the victories and championships piled up at Liberty University since Danny Rocco took over as head football coach six years ago, there is one big void. The Flames have yet to reach the FCS playoffs.
Rocco thinks this year’s team, led by All American and two-time conference Offensive Player of the Year Mike Brown, a senior quarterback, has more than enough firepower - and motivation - to change that.
“From our end, nothing really changes,” said Rocco, whose team emerged from Thursday’s Big South Conference Media Day festivities with the preseason label of conference favorite for the fifth straight season.
The Flames have won or tied for the league title in each of the past four seasons, winning 19 of 21 conference games and going 34-11 overall in that time. Rocco returns 17 starters from last year’s 8-3 team, including a league-high seven who are on the preseason all-conference team.
Rocco knows the heat is on his Flames.
“It gets tougher each year because we’ve become the targets of more and more people,” Rocco said.
Coastal Carolina and Stony Brook are expected to be among the Flames’ top challengers this season.
Following the top three in the preseason poll are Charleston Southern and Gardner-Webb, which tied for fourth in voting by coaches and sports information directors. Virginia Military was picked sixth, followed by Presbyterian.
Junior linebacker Andrae Jacobs, of Coastal Carolina, was tabbed the preseason Conference Defensive Player of the Year. He dominated last season, garnering 104 tackles, including 12 tackles for loss, and added a pair of sacks. He is one of seven returning starters on the Chanticleers’ defense.
At his first Big South Conference Media Day, new Gardner-Webb coach Ron Dickerson Jr. said the Bulldogs were focusing on effort more than anything else. “We just want to play hard at all times, in all three phases of the game,” said Dickerson.
Dickerson said coming together as a team will take a lot of work by both the coaches and players, but he was happy so far with the progress.
Gardner-Webb defensive lineman Jordan Woods will return for his final season with the Bulldogs. The West Charlotte graduate looks to repeat the success of his sophomore season, when he earned all-conference honors.
“He knows if he doesn’t do it this year, it’s over,” Dickerson said. “He’s been working very hard.”
By Denny Seitz, Charlotte Observer