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State champion Liberty Lions closer after extreme highs and lows of past year

Shortly after the team turned its focus to the next season, they were hit with change.

PEORIA, Ariz. — There have been highs, lows and a lot of change for the Liberty High School football team over the last year, but it’s only brought the Lions closer together.

Liberty is coming off a historical season capped with an unforgettable state championship win over Red Mountain. Then junior safety Zay Johnson made a game-winning interception in overtime to seal their win.

“I didn’t really realize what had happened until pretty much everyone was leaving,” Zay Johnson said.

Shortly after the team turned its focus to the next season, they were hit with change. Sports halted due to the pandemic, and their head coach, Mark Smith, left Liberty to coach at his alma mater, leaving the team in the hands of offensive coordinator Colin Thomas.

"Liberty is a great program, I’ve been lucky to be a part of it the last five years,” said Thomas. "Just excited for this season, it’s been such a crazy last six months for our young men. We just want to play, give them a chance to go have fun and enjoy the high school football experience."

Thomas is hoping to build on the foundation set by previous coaches. 

“The standard is the standard for us, we hold our guys to a very high one. Coach Filleman and Coach Smith raised the bar each and every year and obviously now that I’m the head coach we;re going to keep trying to do that. Our kids expect that," he said.

Experiencing the highs of a state title and the lows of a pandemic, has only brought the team closer together.

“You can definitely fill a connection between all of us,” said Johnson. It’s a better vibe, we’re all loving the game of football because everyone realized how quickly the game could just be taken away from them.”

“Here in northern Peoria, our kids love football and our families love football, so I think our whole community is very excited to get the season started,” said Thomas.

Right now the high school football season is set to being games on Sept. 30th.