Freedom has hopes of a postseason berth
Despite losing his top passer, receiver, and rusher to graduation, Freedom coach Jim Wilson is optimistic that his Bulldogs can improve upon last season's 4-6 record and even clinch a playoff berth.
“I'll be disappointed if we don't make the playoffs,” Wilson said.
Much of his optimism is centered around an offense that returns seven starters and showed an ability to move the ball last season.
Still, the Bulldogs must fill holes at key offensive positions if they are going to succeed.
Senior Brad Landis will attempt to fill the large shoes of Matt Brown at quarterback.
Brown capped a stellar four-year career at Freedom by throwing for 1,598 yards and 17 touchdowns. He completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and became the first quarterback in Beaver County history to top the 4,000-yard passing mark.
Landis hasn't played quarterback since junior high and is making the switch from tight end, the position he played for his first three years at Freedom.
“Brad knows the passing game very well, since he was a receiver,” Wilson said. “It's just a matter of him getting the ball away on time and to the right places. We are relying on him to make good decisions. We plan on mixing it up, so not a lot is going to change with him in there.”
Landis should be helped by a strong rushing attack that has some depth. Last season's rushing leader, Bob Roche is gone, but senior Brad Lehocky and junior Cody Hartley are ready to step in and contribute at tailback. Paving the way for Lehocky and Hartley will be the bruising fullback duo of Coby Hale and Kurt Brenner.
The key to jump-starting the running game and protecting Landis will be the play of the offensive line. Left guard Dave Fanning is the only returning starter on the line, and Freedom is faced with the task of replacing massive tackles Shane Mihalko and Bill Allman.
“Losing Shane and Bill was tough on our line, but we have some guys that can step in and play,” Wilson said. “Dave Fanning and Ryan Neal have been on the team a few years now. They should step in and help a lot.”
Wilson also has high hopes for the receiving core despite the loss of Matt Pertile, the top pass catcher last season. Junior Andy Rape will be the featured wide out and senior tight ends Rory Kaclik and Joe Sowinski will be expected to provide blocking and targets for Landis.
Wilson's only real concern is on defense even though that unit features seven returning starters.
“My real worry is up front on defense,” he said. “We have to find some tackles to play in our 5-2 defensive scheme. Last year, we scored a lot of points, but we couldn't stop anyone. We gave up way too many yards to teams. Hopefully, we can improve on that side of the ball this season.”
Improvement on defense may mean improvement in the standings for Freedom. While last season's 4-6 mark may not be impressive, it's a definite improvement from the 1-9 marks that the Bulldogs turned in the two previous seasons.
Wilson thinks that the steady climb should continue this season.
“We are just working on becoming a better football team,” he said. “Had a few things gone differently last year, we could have easily been 6-4 instead of 4-6. I really like our football team. I like our chances. We are just going to work hard and try and improve each week.”