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LIBERTY FOOTBALL

Liberty, Virginia Tech plan to honor fallen UVa players before Saturday's game at Williams Stadium

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Liberty UConn Football

Liberty running back Malik Caper (23) runs with the ball against UConn in East Hartford, Connecticut, on Nov. 12.

Hugh Freeze spends Mondays and Thursdays during the season teaching a class to his Liberty football players. Each week has a different theme, one that is designed to enrich the players as much off the field as on the gridiron.

This past Monday’s team meeting wrapped up before the news of three Virginia football players being killed in a Sunday evening shooting reached the Flames’ football facility. Freeze didn’t wait until Thursday to meet with the team again, instead gathering them together Tuesday.

“Obviously just heartbroken for the Virginia family and their staff and their players and their campus and the entire Virginia family. I can’t imagine,” Freeze said Thursday. “That’s something that you can’t be prepared for, and that’s got to be challenging. I just shared with our players the truth of it and how life is short and fleeting and let’s love each other well and try to help those that are hurting get through the hurting times.”

Liberty has planned ways to honor the memory of D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr. and Devin Chandler before Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech. Fans will receive special stickers branded with the phrase “United with the Hoos” that feature the logos of Virginia, Liberty and Virginia Tech. A moment of silence will be observed before a pregame prayer.

Liberty announced it will wear an all-blue uniform combination to honor UVa, and a player will carry the state flag onto the field.

“We learned about the events really primarily beginning Monday morning and we started making plans of what we’re going to do to honor the victims of the shooting. It’s really evolved throughout the week as different ideas have been brought forth, both from other schools in the state as well as our own,” Liberty athletic director Ian McCaw said. “It’s been a very coordinated effort where everyone has come together. That’s one of the things you find out in college athletics. While we’re all very competitive on the field or in the arena, there’s just tremendous support when something like this happens to rally behind those that are suffering.”

The inaugural matchup in Lynchburg between the Flames (8-2) and the Hokies (2-8, 1-6 ACC) has taken a backseat to the tragedy in Charlottesville. McCaw said most of the communication throughout the week has been with Virginia Tech in coordinating different arrangements for the game, including a helmet decal that will be worn Saturday by Liberty, Virginia Tech, Old Dominion and James Madison.

“I think what they should look at it as, our hearts and minds are certainly with the Virginia family,” Freeze said. “What it should make us do, in my opinion, is realize how lucky and blessed we are and maybe play a little extra out of love for one another and for the Virginia family, for sure. I just hope it makes us really sit back at the end of the day and say, ‘Man, am I making the most of the days that I have?’ That’s what I hope they get out of it more than anything.”

Liberty can take another step toward reaching the 10-win mark for the third time in program history. The Flames are hosting a Power Five conference team for only the second time, and the first matchup resulted in a 24-0 loss to Syracuse in the 2019 opener.

“We just want to finish the season out strong and finish these last two home games with wins and just keep our home winning streak alive and make it to the next bowl,” Liberty cornerback Chris Megginson (Heritage High) said.

The Flames will need to rebound from a 36-33 loss at UConn last weekend, a setback that dropped them out of the national polls following a two-week stay.

Liberty dropped to 4-2 in games decided by seven points or less. Its two losses came when the Flames surrendered more than 30 points.

The Hokies are 0-4 in games decided by seven points or less.

“You would never turn on the tape and think they have the record they have, in my opinion,” Liberty co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Josh Aldridge said. “I see a lot of good things they do. They’ve lost a lot of close games; they’ve been in nearly every game. We’re 8-2 and if a few plays don’t break our way in quite a few of our games, we could easily have the same record as them. They’re just on the other end of it.”

Liberty’s marquee win during the 2020 season came at Virginia Tech, a 38-35 triumph that featured Alex Barbir making a 51-yard field goal with one second remaining. That was the first of a six-game series between the programs.

The Hokies don’t return to Williams Stadium until 2030; they host Liberty in 2027, 2028 and 2029.

“It definitely will mean a lot. It’s an in-state team and obviously we go to Liberty and Virginia Tech is up the road,” Liberty free safety JaVon Scruggs (Appomattox) said. “Obviously any time you step on the green you want to beat everybody, but obviously it’s Virginia Tech coming in here. We went up there and got a win a couple of years ago. Definitely, they’re going to have a lot of fire.”

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