In The Air Last Night
You could feel it coming in the air last night, and we'd been waiting for that moment, for all of our lives. The minute the West Virginia game ended with what I believe was a strong showing from our football team (Consider that WVU shut out recent Sun Belt call up Georgia Southern in week one, and we were able to put 17 on the Mountaineers in week two), the buildup began. The anticipation for last night's top 14 matchup with Montana was unlike any I have seen in my six years here in Lynchburg. The buzz and buildup by Friday was so thick you had to brush it away from your face, to quote Terence Mann in Field of Dreams. We've hosted some big games...last year's Richmond game was certainly one of the biggest I can recall, as was the monsoon matchup with JMU a few years back. In both years you could feel a buzz around campus, but those buildups were timid compared to the excitement of this past week.
I cannot put my finger on the main driver of said excitement, and asking fellow coaches and fans leaves me no closer to a concrete answer. Was it last year's playoff run and the fact that this team is fundamentally different than in previous years, with the confidence to take on a Top-10 opponent and expect to win? Perhaps the excitement created by CFAW and Parent's Weekend was the primary driver? Everyone knew the attendance record was in jeopardy, and the crowd certainly did not disappoint. Was it more so the opponent itself? Montana as we know has a tremendous program and absolutely has the respect of every diehard and knowledgeable Liberty fan. To host them at Williams Stadium is an honor, and certainly that created a sense of anticipation around campus for those in the know.
Perhaps it was non-football related? This past week's Convocation lineup was one of the best in recent memory, with Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders in town on Monday, followed by New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury on Wednesday, and ending with Korie and Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame on Friday. The crowds at all three convocations were tremendous, and having Sanders on campus not only created a buzz around Liberty and Lynchburg, but nationally as well, garnering a tremendous amount of positive feedback among those from all sides of the political spectrum. You could sense that BIG things were happening here, as though another step in our growth towards a top national university was taking place, with those on campus thankful to be "doing it live."
My final conclusion is that perhaps all of the above mentioned characteristics played an equal role in the buildup, with no one moment providing any more excitement than another, but as a whole, adding up to the most anticipated home football game in Liberty history, and one of the more epic moments in Liberty University history in general.
In the big picture of life what we witnessed last night was just an FCS football game between #7 Montana and #14 Liberty, with the Flames coming out on the winning end of a 31-21 score. But for #FlamesNation and the Liberty community nationwide, it was so much more. What we witnessed last night was one big step for our football program, and one giant leap for our university as a whole. The attendance record was shattered, with 22,551 on hand to see the win over a legendary FCS program. The home section was filled to the max, with overflow seating on the hills numbering in the hundreds. The student section was electric, redefining 4 Quarters of Fury and no doubt affecting the outcome of the game. Students, thank you for last night. We saw in your performance an atmosphere that matches or exceeds any FBS student section in the country in terms of passion and desire, the larger venues with only more students on hand to make them "better" student sections in the minds of the "experts" who attempt to measure such things. Per capita, you have no equal in all of college football, and I am qualified to make such a claim having been at Penn State for three years and witnessed firsthand their student section in action.
Perhaps more importantly, everyone in attendance last night was treated to a preview of our future, a glimpse of what is sure to come as we continue to build this university and all of our programs (Arts, Academics, Athletics). I have seen the plans for a 60,000 seat Williams Stadium, and I believe without a doubt I will see it come to reality in my lifetime. Until then, what a fun ride it is going to be, and in the air last night you could feel a sense of the overwhelming optimism for the future of not only our football program, but also Liberty as a whole. How thankful we all should be to be part of said ride, the likes of which may go unmatched in the history of higher education.
As I reflect personally on last night's football game and the future of this great university, I am reminded of why I chose to come to Liberty some six years ago and start our Women's Swimming & Diving program from scratch. My colleagues and friends thought I was insane - Who would leave the cozy confines of the Big Ten and Penn State University to start up a program from scratch at small bible college in Virginia, they asked? As it were, many of them are now wishing they would have applied, for a small bible college Liberty certainly is not! The moment in my interview when I heard our Athletic Director Jeff Barber speak of the vision for Liberty athletics and the university as a whole, I knew right away this was the place for me and that I wanted to help LU build a top 25 athletics department and a top national university. What an incredible honor to be a small part of it all, for I have always been a builder, and find a greater purpose and calling in the building aspect of life rather than the maintenance thereof.
I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes that I share often here at Liberty, and it summarizes beautifully my thoughts about LU and the future of our Arts, Academics, and Athletics...the destiny of our university family as a whole.
When asked about the future of the aviation industry, Wilbur Wright of Wright Brothers fame replied -
"It is not really necessary to look too far into the future; we see enough already to be certain it will be magnificent. Only let us hurry and open the roads."
And that is a quote I live by daily here at Liberty...the idea that our future is bright, that we have seen enough to know that it will be incredible, and we certainly saw as much last night. And while the future will be all of that and more, we cannot rest, we cannot relax, for said future depends on putting in the time and energy here and now to "hurry and open the roads."