TRUMBULL ATHLETIC CONFERENCE Defending champions faced with pay to play



Liberty's levy failed and has now implemented a pay-to-play policy.
By JOHN BASSETTI
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
LIBERTY -- Perhaps the biggest impediment to Liberty's success this season has already been surmounted.
Since the defeat of a levy earlier this month, each athlete is required to pay $250.
"We've got to get everybody on the roster," head football coach Jeff Whittaker said of the pay-to-play policy affecting 51 football players who reported for summer sessions.
"It's a real obstacle because some kids just don't have a lot of money," Whittaker said of the per family per season fee.
"Once we get through that situation, we're optimistic about our opportunities this year."
Whether varsity football is feeling the sting from the policy that had a Aug. 20 deadline has yet to be played out for the Leopards, who are defending Trumbull Athletic Conference champs.
"We'll see where we stand," Whittaker said of eligibility. "This is all new for us, so we don't know what to expect."
With a healthy fund raising effort, it appears that the core of the team won't be adversely affected.
Now that the deadline has passed, the goal line is next.
Seven return on defense
The Leopards have seven starters returning on defense and four on offense.
Key players from a team that went 8-2, 6-1 and won the TAC for the second time in four years are wide receiver Marcellus Bowman (6-3, 195 Sr.) and tight end Keith Forestal (6-4, 225 Sr.).
As outside linebacker, Bowman, verbally committed to Boston College, anchors a defense that held opponents to 11.8 points per game in 2003. Forestal, an inside linebacker, has received offers from Big 10 and SEC schools.
"We're expecting a lot out of him," Whittaker said of Forestal.
Other solid defenders are back Brandon Cornwell (6-1, 180 Sr.) and inside linebacker Dania Gillum (ILB), who played quite a bit last year.
Also returning after getting a lot of experience are end Dan Mohler (6-1, 230 Sr.) and tackles Brandon Greaf (6-0, 230 Sr.) and Tim Whitlow (6-0, 215 Sr.).
"Our down people are a little quicker than in the past," Whittaker said of the defense. "We should be fairly aggressive and have some good speed."
Last season, Bowman picked off three passes and returned them 112 yards.
Jones back at quarterback
A yet-to-develop offense features third-year quarterback Brian Jones (5-11, 185 Sr.), Forestal at tight end, Greaf at center and guards Tyler Williams (6-1, 195 Sr.) and Whitlow. Another guard is sophomore Breen Parry (5-11, 195).
Whittaker expects John Humphrey (6-1, 205 Jr.) to be a force as two-way end, along with Bowman on the flank.
Cornwell will be wingback in the Wing-T backfield where Whittaker the Leopards are waiting for two more runners to emerge in place of Mike Marvin and Bradley Fletcher.
Jones as punter and Humphrey as kicker are outstanding in their specialties.
Wide-open offense
Liberty will be little more wide-open on offense, Whittaker said."Our plan is to throw the ball more. We have good receivers in Forestal, Bowman and Cornwell and some backs who can catch. We'll try to get the ball in the air more. Jones is an excellent thrower. It's up to him to be productive in passing."
Forestal made 19 catches for 323 yards in 2003, while Bowman made 11 catches for 204 yards.
Jones threw for 1,123 yards on 62 of 102. He had 12 touchdowns and was intercepted five times.
Whittaker began his head coaching in Centerburg (2 years), followed by stints in Vinton County (3) and Conneaut (10) then as an inside linebackers coach at Gannon University for a season.
He still lives in Conneaut.
Hungry for more
Tasting championships has left the Leopards hungry for more.
"Anytime you win, the expectations rise all around,' Whittaker said. "We have the potential to be as good as last year. We have a lot of talent, but we've got to stay away from injuries and see who will step up."
Will the paw prevail?
bassetti@vindy.com

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