Few things in life are as certain as death, taxes and a lengthy playoff run by the Olentangy Liberty football team.
The Patriots took a very, very small step back after reaching the Division I state semifinals three straight seasons, getting bounced by Groveport-Madison in a regional semifinal two years ago and Springfield in a regional final last fall, but that’s not the point.
The point, of course, is that Liberty is always good, if not great, and head coach Steve Hale said it got to that point because of the culture created by his players.
Just look at what they were able to accomplish amid a global pandemic, finishing 8-2 last fall with their final win of the season coming against an undefeated Dublin Coffman team in a regional semifinal … in Dublin.
Hale, as always, gave the credit to his guys.
“Our players responded will to everything last fall,” he said. “They practiced and prepared each week even though there was always a chance they might not have a chance to play. We had great senior leadership and all of our players bought into our culture. They treated each opportunity like it could be their last. That created a really good sense of urgency.”
Of course, those seniors are gone now, but the Patriots have dealt with players graduating out of the program before. It happens every year and, every year, new guys step up.
This year’s group, Hale said, is no exception.
“Our players did a really good job in June and July and are looking forward to the start of the season,” he said. “We have a lot of depth. We are at 97 (players) in grades 10-12 … that gives us a lot of depth at every position. Our kids have also bought into our culture and the way we approach our program at Liberty.”
Leaders heading into the season include Carter Smith (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) and Dylan Graber (6-3, 275), who are committed to Indiana and Ball State, respectively. Smith returns after anchoring the offensive line at tackle a year ago while Graber is back to clog things up in the middle of the defensive line.
The only other starter back on offense is senior slot receiver Chase Brecht while junior cornerback Caden Minniti and senior linebacker Freddy Noday return on defense. That leaves plenty of opportunity for new leaders to emerge.
“We have a lot of players who don’t have a great deal of varsity experience,” Hale said. “They will need to learn a lot in the early games … but our expectations are always high for our guys.”
The inexperienced players won’t be able to ease into the season, either. Liberty, as usual, has a loaded schedule. The non-league portion features Steubenville, Cleveland Glenville, Olentangy Berlin, Westerville Central and, oh yeah … defending state champion Cincinnati St. Xavier at home on Sept. 3.
After that, the Patriots get Coffman, Upper Arlington, Hilliard Bradley, Hilliard Davidson and Olentangy Orange in OCC-Central action.
“Our schedule is incredibly challenging,” Hale said. “We face state powers in our non-league games, and our league could be one of the strongest in Ohio. We will be tested each week of the season.”