The much-anticipated “Patriot Games” took an unexpected turn late Thursday afternoon, thanks to bolts of lightning near the practice field.
So instead of ending summer workouts with a couple of hours that mixed football drills and picnic-type games, the Liberty football team hurried into the school’s gym.
Just another reminder that you never know when an obstacle will redirect your path. And yes, the Class 4A Patriots vow to be ready for whatever is thrown at them during their first varsity season.
“People have been counting us out,” junior running back Kaleb Jackson said. “They have been saying we’re just a JV team and we have not played any competition. It’s time for us to show what we can do.”
For players like Jackson, a four-star prospect who has run the 40-yard in 4.3 seconds, the season can’t come fast enough. The Patriots meet McKinley in the third game at the East Baton Rouge Kickoff Classic set for Broadmoor High on Aug. 27.
The scaled down "Patriot Games" did offer exactly what Liberty coach Drey Trosclair wanted — quality team building under a newly adopted 2021 season mantra of "Our Time." Players were divided into groups and competed against each other in repeated rounds of tug-of- war.
Trosclair stood in the middle and signaled the start and end of each round. All rounds inevitably ended with the winning team leaping in the air and screaming loudly.
“We have come a long way in two years. That first year, it was more about guys who were interested in playing football who maybe did not have a lot of experience,” Trosclair said. “Now we have football players. It’s fun and it's exciting to be at this point. At the same time, it has been a long time coming.”
Trosclair coached Class 1A Ascension Catholic to back-to-back runner-up finishes in select Division IV. Because ACHS was an established program and Liberty is a start-up, there are differences that included buying equipment, figuring out workout and locker room space and molding players.
This was supposed to be a reboot of the Lee High program that had been dormant for a decade. Controversy ensued over school name for the second time in recent years and the magnet school was rebranded as Liberty before the 2020-21 school year.
“We are to the point now where the guys who have been here for two years can tell the younger guys about the work it took to get to this point,” Trosclair said. “They are proud of what they have done and really want to take that next step.”
The next step into varsity football and District 7-4A will be an interesting one with a roster of around 81 players, including about 50 varsity players. With no stadium at its school, Liberty will use BREC’s Olympia Stadium for home games, including their season opener against Class 1A Cedar Creek on Sept. 3.
Jackson, who holds offers from LSU and Florida State, is the best known of the Patriots. Liberty did pick up games against some varsity teams during the 2020 COVID-19 altered season and beat future district rival Belaire.
The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Jackson is eager to match up against Istrouma and its star running back Le’Veon Moss, a senior and an Alabama commitment. The duo squared off a few times in track last spring. Jackson placed fourth in the Class 4A 100 meters in 10.66 seconds at the LHSAA’s outdoor championships.
Quarterback Khylan Gross and linebacker Jordan Okoye are other juniors who are eager to see how they match up. Traditional power Plaquemine of 7-4A is another team the Patriots are intrigued about playing.
“I am looking forward to seeing us play together as a team and seeing us get better,” the 230-pound Okoye said. “I think the first time we played a varsity team I saw a difference in the level of play. I also saw we could hang with them.
“For me, every game is important. I don’t just have one game on a calendar circled. They all are. I want to lead by example and help everybody stay on track.”
Like Jackson, Gross said few teams are taking the Patriots seriously. He said he wants to see Liberty players approaching each game with a chip on their shoulder.
“We need to play physical and we need to be in better shape than the other teams,” Gross added. “We have something to prove.”