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When the PIAA went to six classifications last season, many teams were forced to move up a class, some even two. But for some around the WPIAL, they stayed right where they were; a few lucky enough to remain in their same conference.
Freedom Area was one of the few teams to remain in their conference, the Midwestern Conference, which features teams from Beaver and Lawrence County. But with the reclassification, powerhouses like Aliquippa and Beaver Falls moved up to Class 3A, and were replaced by the likes of South Side Beaver and Riverside.
Under new coach Tom Liberty, the Bulldogs struggled to a 3-7 record. Posting that record in their old conference usually meant a missed playoff berth, but in the realigned Class 2A, Freedom were able to capture the fifth playoff spot. They went on to upset East Allegheny in the first round 38-21 before losing to Riverside in the quarterfinals.
After one of the best seasons for the program in over a decade, Liberty is thinking more than just making the playoffs in 2017.
“This year we want to make a run,” Liberty said. “These kids are dedicated. We are 30 plus in the weight room all thru January, all spring and all summer. Difference here right now there is no selfish attitude.”
The selfish attitudes have been at Freedom in the past. Prior to Liberty being hired, the Bulldogs won a total of four games in their last two seasons in the old Class 2A. Being a disciple of legendary football coach Larry Bruno, Liberty was able absorb much of his knowledge of the game. Of all things Bruno taught him when he was a young 20-something assistant, the one message the legendary coach always preached according to Liberty was surround yourself with a good staff.
“My staff is dedicated, they’ve all played,” Liberty said. “I have a staff with many years of experience, a staff that is not afraid to discipline they demand respect.”
The dedication of the coaches definitely has rubbed off on the players. Rising junior Cody Ross, who has received Division 1 interest at both fullback and linebacker, believes the change in mindset has effected everyone on the team.
“Our coaching staff comes out here with energy and intensity everyday,” Ross said. “They are out here yelling at us and they want us to be physical. I think that’s what changed everyone, our coaches aren’t going to take no for an answer. They are on us constantly and they are not going to take no for an answer.”
Joining Ross in the backfield will be senior Kyle Borgman, who is receiving Division one interest of his own at cornerback, and junior Zach Rosa at quarterback. Borgman rushed for a team-high 644 yards while Rosa threw 1,412 yards and 11 touchdowns, though he did throw 16 interceptions. The junior will have to limit the turnovers this season if he wants to lead the Bulldogs to their first winning season in over 12 years.
Though it has been a long, tough for many fans of the Freedom Bulldogs, times have changed. Coach Liberty and his staff have changed the culture. A football program that once produced former Pitt and Chicago Bear great Jimbo Covert can now hold their head high again.