Coming off a one-win season, Liberty is optimistic about turning things around

The Liberty football team is hoping for a return to prominence this season.

Two years ago, the Falcons went 6-5 overall and advanced to the Class 5A playoffs. In 2012, they struggled to a 1-8 record, picking up a win against St. Helens in their Northwest Oregon Conference opener.

So after opening the 2013 season with a 24-12 loss to city rival Hillsboro and then knocking off Churchill of Eugene 38-21 last Friday, the season is off to an optimistic start. That second outcome was a considerable improvement over 2012, when the Falcons lost to the Lancers, 57-34.

“It’s nice coming off a win. I feel like we’re going in the right direction there,” Liberty coach Eric Mahlum said. “To be honest, I feel really good about this team. These guys play hard, they practice hard.

“Hilhi did a great job that first game, we just made too many mistakes and they capitalized on those. We came back, put in the same work the next week and we eliminated mistakes and got the win.”

Sophomore Blake Walker has won the starter’s role at quarterback to guide Liberty’s veer offense, but he is being pushed for playing time by senior Mike McBride, who missed last week’s game and will also sit out tonight’s at St. Helens after suffering a concussion in the opener.

While Liberty is capable in the air, it has done much of its damage on the ground so far this year, averaging more than 300 rushing yards per game. Senior Matt Langbehn has keyed the ground attack, already running for more than 300 yards.

“It seems like right now, everything kind of revolves around him,” Mahlum said. “We kind of believe, well, if you’re going to stop our offense, you’ve got to stop Matt Langbehn. But ... we have tons of other weapons that will hurt you.”

Those weapons include receivers Austin Mason and Byron Greenlee, plus running backs Nick Bonat and Koby Alvarado. Mahlum described Javier Picard as the leader of the offensive line (“his motor never stops,” he said), and Austin Kriek and Zane Chitwood are also back as starters.

The coaching staff has installed a new defense for this season, so Mahlum expects that unit will improve with more experience, practice and film study.

Kyle Rose and Hunter Dehlin key the Falcons’ defense at linebacker and free safety.

“If they’re making plays all over the field, we know our defense is playing really well and everybody’s doing their job, because those guys are supposed to make plays,” Mahlum said.

Picard and Chitwood also play on the defensive line, as do Jordan Grenfell and Angel Rodriguez. Mahlum also expects Jon Horn to contribute.

“There’s only so many Friday nights to line up and play a game to the best of their ability,” Mahlum noted. “I expect them to play and do what we practiced, and perform on a Friday night with the same expectations we practiced with. If they go out there and do that, I can’t ask anything more.

“Obviously we have goals. We want to get back to the playoffs and everything else, but that’s not what you have to focus on. You have to focus on the process, and that’s what we ask of these guys.”

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