Football kicks off new season

Trevor Sytsma

Liberty football has had mixed success this season, but a passionate student section and head coach continue to drive the team forward.

This summer, the football team’s 12 seniors struggled to come up with a team motto that would embody Liberty football. Having a young and physically smaller team, the seniors realized they would have to make up for what they lacked in size with a relentless tenacity. They finally settled on the word “Fight,” a motto that has come to represent the team’s unwavering resolve and doggedness on Friday nights.

“‘Fight’ means that we know that we’re young, we know that we’re smaller than a lot of teams, but we’re just going to go out and compete every play, and we’re never going to give up,” junior running back Russell Boston said. “We play our ball and do our best to execute.”

After the early-season injuries of several key players, including senior Jake Korolak and juniors Quinn Magendanz and Kacy Thomas, Liberty football went head-to-head with Eastside Catholic. They lost 62-9.

“At the Eastside Catholic game, we got thumped, big time.  That was one of the worst losses that we’ve ever had,” Head Coach Steve Valach said. “But I felt like the statement our student body made was counter cultural. You know, you cheer for your team when they win. You boo them and leave them when they lose.  The student body turned that around, and said ‘We’re going to cheer for you and love you no matter what, just because you’re Liberty.’ I’ve been coaching for a long time, twenty-six years, and I’ve never seen that.”

The enthusiastic spirit of the student section at football games has had a profound effect on the players too.

“All of the shouting and spirit pumps us up. You just get in a zone. It’s incredible. We love that,” senior defensive back Colin Larson said. “In my four years at Liberty, I’ve never seen a better student section.”

The week following the defeat against Eastside Catholic, Liberty beat Hazen 28-7, and shut out Interlake 27-0 the week after. But although Valach likes to win, to him, football is about much more than winning and the act of sport itself.

“We live in a culture where we worship sports, but in sport by itself, there’s only limited value. When we use the arena of sports to become better people, then I think it has a lot of value,” Valach said. “For as much time as we put into them, they’ve got to be about much more than what goes on between white lines on a Friday night.”

This belief has shaped Valach’s mission statement: “To unlock greatness in the boys we coach and launch them into becoming men of action who lead with empathy and integrity.” Valach’s transformative style of leadership got him nominated for the 2013 Newcastle Diamond Award for community leadership, and led him to be named the Seahawks Coach of the Year in 2009.

“Coach Valach wants to build great men, not just win football games. And that’s what I think sets him apart from a lot of other coaches,” junior defensive lineman Alec Waters said.