With five straight playoff appearances after never previously having a postseason berth, the Liberty-Benton football program has established themselves as one of the new powers in Division V. This year’s team has a chance to be the best one yet, as a strong core returns, led by junior All-Ohio QB/DB Aaron Craft.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
QB/DB Aaron Craft (6-1, 175, jr.), RB Brandon Pickett (5-7, 165, sr.), C Aaron Gerth (5-9, 245, sr.), LB Jacob Miller (5-9, 185, sr.), LB Brett Pasche (6-2, 205, jr.), DT Caleb Panning (6-0, 190, sr.), DT Lucas Panning (6-0, 190, sr.).
With five straight playoff appearances after never previously having a postseason berth, the Liberty-Benton football program has established themselves as one of the new powers in Division V.
Last year’s squad put together another strong season, posting a 12-1 record and a trip to the Region 18 finals.
“Anytime you get to play in Week 11, you have to consider that to be a successful season,” head coach Tim Nichols said. “Going into the year, we had lost quite a few seniors. We had only brought nine back. We were optimistic, but once the year kept going, I thought we just got a little bit better. Our region’s pretty good – there’s some pretty good football in it – but we made a run at it. We were pretty pleased overall.”
What’s been the secret to the newfound success?
“We finally got some things going program-wise when Scott Garlock got on as the head coach,” Nichols said. “I just hopped on last year and took the head coaching title, but we didn’t change anything. We stayed with the same system. We felt we had some things in place, and we just wanted to do what we’d done the previous year. Our kids know it, and we have been fortunate to keep our staff intact. I think the kids trust us, and we have our trust in them. Good things happen when you have that.”
This year’s team has a chance to be the best one yet, as a strong core returns, led by junior All-Ohio QB/DB Aaron Craft.
“We’re going to have some expectations,” Nichols said. “Our kids have some expectations. We have about nine out of 11 back on defense. I think that right there alone is a little confidence for us that we’re going to be able to do some things on that side of the ball. Offensively, I think we have five out of 11 back, but we have some kids who have pretty good experience in the ones we have coming back. We’ve been awfully pleased with what’s happened in the winter; that was one of our better ones for a while. We’re just anxious to get the summer going. You never know until you get out there and see what’s going on.”
Craft has established himself as one of the state’s top athletes, performing at a high level in both football and basketball. In the 2007 regular season, Craft threw for 1,800 yards, 22 touchdowns, and three interceptions, while rushing for 881 yards and 13 touchdowns and picking off five passes as a defensive back. His playoff totals pushed him over 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing for the season.
“I just think that’s one of those rare kids,” Nichols said. “He’s a pretty special kid. He got to start as a freshman and helped us get to Week 14 that year. We lost in the state semis, so coming back last year, it just didn’t seem like he was just a sophomore for us. He already got to play in 14 games. Just having him back there and not changing the system, he knows what we do and what to look for, and it’s a real luxury from that standpoint. He just knows how to take care of the ball and make good decisions. We’re going to definitely look for the same out of him this year.”
Craft will be the main man on offense, but the Eagles will be strong on the defensive side of the ball as well.
“I think defensively, we have a chance to be a little faster,” Nichols said. “I think we’re going to have a little more speed on that side of the ball. I’m excited. We have the chance to make it pretty tough for teams to find the end zone on us.
“Offensively, we lost some skill players. We’re fortunate enough to have our quarterback back and our running back back. We’ll have some good competition for some O-Line spots, so we’re anxious to get it going.”
Liberty-Benton will face a schedule of familiar foes, as well as a unique newcomer.
“Our league is an all D-VI that will generally send a couple teams to the playoffs and do well,” Nichols said. “Last year it was McComb and Arlington, and Hardin Northern traditionally for a Division VI school does pretty good. We’ve ended up playing up a school out of Ontario for Week 1, out of Canada, so that’s a bit of a different thing for us.”
On paper, the Eagles appear set to be one of the state title contenders in Division V. This fact has not escaped the community and players, who have been looking forward to this season for a while.
“I’m sure they are,” Nichols said. “We try to take that for what it is, but they’re excited. The community excitement, your kids hear it and I’m sure it will rub off on them. Excitement and expectations are great, but you still have to go out and get it done. It’ll be here before we know it, and we’ll see how it works.” .
8/21 Notre Dame (Ontario)
8/29 at Arlington
9/19 at Arcadia
10/3 Van Buren
10/10 Dola Hardin Northern
10/24 Rawson Cory Rawson