By Brandon Judeh
There were several question marks heading into the 2013 football season for the Liberty Leopards.
Would new head football coach Kevin Cylar be able to keep the Leopards pushing forward after a surprise 9-3 season in 2012?
How would the team respond to their third coach in three years?
And, maybe the biggest of them all, which running back would anchor the Leopards’ backfield?
All of the above were answered quickly.
Cylar, the former Ursuline assistant, grabbed the team’s attention after an upset loss to Salem in the first game of the season.
“The Salem game woke us up, not that we overlooked them, but it taught us that you can never overlook any team especially here in northeast Ohio,” said Cylar. “The team didn’t buy into my philosophy right away, the first practice we only had about 20 kids, but word got around quickly that just because there was a new coach, this wasn’t going to be a down year for Liberty football.”
Still, the Leopards (7-3) started out 1-2, but then came a five-game winning streak that saw them beat the likes of Girard and Jefferson.
It was a loss to Lakeview, in Week 9, that showed the Leopards that anything could happen.
“That loss definitely humbled us, especially the way the score ended, 33-6,” Cylar said. “We responded with a win, which is always good. I try to bring the mentality that I got at Ursuline, which is to play for 15 weeks.”
Throughout the season the team responded well to Cylar’s mentality, especially senior quarterback and leader Asim Pleas.
“Asim is a great kid, he does everything we ask of him and he reminds me a lot of Larry Bird in the sense that he’s a student of the game and picks up on and recognizes the formations other teams are throwing at him,” Cylar said.
Maybe the biggest decision Cylar had to make was at the running back position and he ended up making the right one by starting freshman phenom Lynn Bowden.
After entrusting Bowden with the starting duties, he responded by becoming one of the area’s most prolific runners, rushing for 1,427 yards and 13 scores.
“God has blessed me and given me the opportunity to go out and do something special this year. At the beginning of the season I never imagined I would have been the starter, I just wanted to go out and work as hard as possible,” Bowden said.
Pleas took the youngster under his wing. He even drives Bowden to school. The relationship has led to the Leopards second straight playoff appearance.
“Our success that we have on the field comes directly from the relationship we have off the field. We know each other so well and that helps us be on the same page while playing,” Pleas said.
Liberty will visit Crestview on Saturday night in a Division V matchup. The Rebels beat the Leopards, 34-26, in Week 3.