Two minutes with Joe Simon: Liberty head coach discusses upcoming season

Sports

LIBERTY TWP., Ohio (WKBN) – Liberty turns to one of its own in alumnus Joe Simon to take over the football program.

“Taking over at my alma mater is truly an honor,” Simon said. “In my eyes, it’s the pinnacle job of my coaching career. When I first started coaching, I never envisioned being a college or professional coach. My goal was to one day be the head coach at Liberty.”

Three of the last four head coaches at Liberty have enjoyed a winning season in their first year on the job (Jeff Whittaker, Brian Jones and Kevin Cylar).

“It is tough to say until you put pads on but I like the way they are flying around on defense. I was worried about depth upfront but it looks like we will be able to have one set for each side of the ball, which you don’t see often in Division VI.”

“I’m excited to build on the years of tradition at Liberty,” Simon said. “My expectations are to field a team that is highly competitive and regarded as one of the most well-rounded in the area. We’ll take pride in being a fundamentally sound, disciplined football team. Our student-athletes will strive to be glowing examples of success in the classroom, on the field and in the community.”

The Leopards will open the 2021 season at home against Western Reserve on Friday, August 20.

“Being able to deal with adversity, I think we have been able to do a good job of that in the passing camps this summer. I have really liked the attitude when bad things have happened. They roll it off their shoulder and it is on to the next play.”

2020 Record: 1-6 (1-5, 6th place in MVAC Grey Tier)
Coach: Joe Simon, 1st season

Previewing Liberty’s Offense
Scoring Offense: 15.0 (50th in the area)
Total Offense: 158.9
Key Returnees: Chris Cunningham, JR/RB; Derek DeMattia, JR/QB; DeAndre Venters, SR/QB; Donte Venters, SR/ATH
Key Losses: Antuan Brown, WR; Carter Coman, C
Name to watch for: Derek DeMattia, QB

Historically, Liberty has been known for its ground game. Last year, the Leopards averaged just 104 rushing yards per game.

Liberty hopes to create more space to run this year with a potentially strong line up front.

“They possess good size, strength and have a good amount of experience returning with three starters,” Simon said. “We need to create as much depth as possible because injuries happen, and the trenches are where games are won and lost.”

Simon includes Michael Sattler, Camden Husk, Jeff Moananu, Thomas Easton and Jonah Woods as players who the Leopards will rely on this coming season.

“If we need to run the ball more, we will suit our offense to do that. If we need to throw the ball more, then our offense is flexible to do that.”

At quarterback, Coach Simon likes what he has in junior Derek DeMattia.

“He split snaps last year and has a very strong arm. Furthermore, he demonstrates great leadership and a strong work ethic. Every job is up for competition, though. No one has a starting role right now. DeAndre Venters is another candidate at quarterback. He’s a senior with good athleticism and leadership skills.”

DeMattia threw for 367 yards on 27 completions and four touchdowns.

Donte Venters and Chris Cunningham could see time in the backfield. Venters rushed for 134 yards (2 TDs) and caught four passes for 62 yards and a score as a junior. Cunningham led the team among ball carriers who had 30 rushes or more with a 5.4 average per run (174 yards, 2 TDs).

Previewing Liberty’s Defense
Scoring Defense: 31.5 (53rd in the area)
Total Defense: 275.3
Key Returnees: Zach James, SR/DL; Donte Venters, SR/LB; Tremendous Watson, SR/DL; La’Breilyn Wilson, SR/DL
Key Losses: Antuan Brown, DB; Carter Coman, DL
Name to watch for: La’Breilyn Wilson, DE

The defense finished with 12 takeaways (four interceptions and eight fumble recoveries) in 2020.

“I’m cautiously optimistic about the defense,” Simon said. “I like the overall athleticism and blend of size, speed and skill. Plus, there appears to be depth. It appears as if the strength is along the line. Seniors Tremendous Watson (DT), La’Breilyn Wilson (DE) and Zach James (DE) all started last year and have been impressive in the weight room and in on-field drills.”

Watson closed out his junior season with 20 tackles. Wilson finished with three quarterback sacks and 11 ½ tackles for a loss. James led the team in defensive stops with 33.

At linebacker, Liberty features plenty of experienced players in seniors Donte Venters, Jadan Townsend and his twin brother, Jordan, as well as juniors Derek DeMattia and Chris Cunningam.

“Their commitment to the weight room and to improve as players has been a welcome sight for the coaching staff and the younger players,” Simon said.

2020 MVAC Grey Tier Standings
Brookfield – 5-1 (6-4)
Crestview – 4-1 (7-2)
LaBrae – 3-2 (6-4)
Champion – 2-2 (2-3)
Memorial – 2-3 (2-5)
Liberty – 1-5 (1-6)
Newton Falls – 0-3 (1-6)

Schedule
Aug. 20 – Western Reserve
Aug. 27 – Girard
Sept. 3 – at Lakeview
Sept. 10 – at Brookfield
Sept. 17 – at Crestview
Sept. 24 – at Campbell Memorial
Oct. 1 – Champion
Oct. 8 – at Newton Falls
Oct. 15 – LaBrae
Oct. 22 – Garrettsville Garfield

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