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Democrat Photo by Ted Waddell

LIBERTY SENIOR QUARTERBACK Corey VanKeuren throws the ball to a teammate.

Liberty Now
Class B Team

By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY — September 6, 2005 – “We’re in uncharted waters,” said Jim O’Connor, one of three coaches who stepped up to the plate to revive Liberty Central School’s varsity football program.
When O’Connor started coaching Indians’ varsity football several years ago, the team was 0-8 for that season. But in subsequent years, the Indians gradually improved and posted won-lost records of 1-7, 6-4, 10-0 and 6-2.
The program folded after the opening game of the 2003 season when the Indians, which won the Section IX Class C championship just four years earlier, couldn’t find enough players to field a varsity squad.
Liberty, now a Class B team, had 22 players on its roster for last Saturday’s season opener against the Highland Huskies. Among those players are two quarterbacks: 16-year-old sophomore Joseph Ruiz and 17-year-old senior Corey Van Keuren.
“I feel like a leader in charge and control, like a captain on the field,” Van Keuren said.
“It didn’t feel too good to be without a chance to play varsity football for two years,” he added.
At the helm of the 2005 Liberty varsity football program are three coaches with a combined total of 34 years worth of gridiron coaching experience. O’Connor and Phil Fanning lead the defense, while John Wilhelm is in charge of offense.
“We’re just three guys who want to give these kids an opportunity to play football,” Fanning said. “We always work together.”
“Our goal is to win more games than we lose,” Fanning added.
O’Connor said, “Phil and I got back [into the Liberty modified football program] when they were in trouble.”
Coming up through the ranks as the Indians jump start their varsity football program are 28 junior varsity players and 35 modified players. Reflecting on how the numbers game affects a school’s ability to field a team, O’Connor said that the season after the Indians won the Section IX Class C championship, they had 70 kids sign up, “but only about 20 actually showed up.”
O’Connor’s take on rejuvenating the Indians’ varsity football program?
“I don’t want to consider it a job done until we’ve survived a whole season,” he said. “We have our work cut out for us… no doubt about it.”
Note: Because of early deadlines due to the Labor Day holiday, Saturday’s game between Liberty and Highland took place too late for this edition. Please see coverage of the contest in Friday’s Democrat.

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