For the first time in nearly three decades, the Liberty Christian football team stepped onto the field this season without the leadership and watchful eye of Mark Bowles.
The former LCS coach, for whom the school’s football stadium is named, led the Warriors to 20 district championships, 17 state semi-finals appearances, six appearances in the state finals and three state football championships in his 26 years as the school’s head football coach before retiring last year.
In fact, Bowles was the only head football coach the school had ever had prior to this season.
Enter Greg Price; a man who served as Bowles’ offensive coordinator for the last six years with some very big shoes to fill heading into this season – and so far, things are going according to plan.
The Warriors have been state-ranked throughout much of the season in 2009 and are well on their way to making the post-season, yet again, and Price said he is pretty pleased with how things are unfolding.
“We’ve played hard in all of our matchups this year,” Price said. “We’ve had an interesting year. We lost probably the best player on our team in Justin Stephens to an ACL injury. That hurt our team from the leadership standpoint and what he brought to the field.
“But our kids have stepped up in a lot of different areas. We’ve got a good senior class and picked up some impressive victories along the way.”
The Warriors most impressive victory this season came against Midland Christian on Oct. 30 in Argyle. The 62-42 barn burner would in all likelihood prove to be the de facto district championship, and Midland Christian was undefeated heading into the contest.
Liberty Christian School is a perennial powerhouse in the sport of football, and Price said he attributes the kind of success the Warriors teams have enjoyed to a couple of factors.
“I think tradition is a very big deal for every Liberty team,” Price said. “With that tradition of winning, each class that comes along wants to be like the one before. They just don’t want to let anybody down.
“I think the pillars of our program are hard work, brotherhood and love for each other. Christ is at the center of it, and everything else falls into place.”
Price said it has taken some getting used to this year without Bowles, but said the former Liberty coach is usually not far away if needed.
“There’s been a lot more for me to think about this year than I ever had to in the past,” Price said. “The good thing is, he hasn’t been too far away. He’s been at all of our games. We’ve had the opportunity to get together quite a bit.
“He’s not totally gone, but we certainly have felt his absence. Things like, what time is the pre-game meal; what time is the bus leaving and how many kids are on the bus? They’re little things, but when you have to make those decisions, you realize how much goes into it.”
Bowles still works at Liberty Christian School as a vice-principal in the upper school, and he is still in contact with Price and the coaching staff on a daily basis.
In his first year not at the helm for the Warriors football team, Bowles said it has been quite an adjustment for him.
“The first part of the year, it was pretty tough,” Bowles said. “I felt kind of like a mother who has had all of her kids go off to college. It was kind of like, ‘what do I do? I have no purpose left.’
“Going to the first couple of games, and realizing that is doesn’t really matter if you are there or not; the game is going to go on and nobody is asking your input, that was pretty tough. On the flip side, I really miss the kids and the coaches, but I don’t think it is appropriate of me to stick my nose in. I kind of operate under the premise of the best of advice is when it’s asked for.”
Bowles said there is an upside, as well.
“The positive part of it is having time with my wife,” Bowles said. “This is the first time in 27 years that I have had a Saturday in September and October off. That part of it has really been nice.
“Mainly, it’s just been different.”
The former Liberty coach said walking away from the head coaching position of the football team was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make.
“The hardest part was making sure that I had made the right decision,” Bowles said. “What I knew when I walked away was, it could not be a situation where a year or two later I came back and said, ‘man, I made a mistake.’
“You can’t take it back. People kept saying ‘oh, coach you can’t quit,’ and I thought maybe I was making a mistake. But I always said that if I ever got to the point where I had to make myself do any of the things it takes to have a successful program, then it’s time to step down. There were parts of coaching that I had to make myself go do, and that’s not fair to the coaches or the kids.”
Liberty Christian quarterback Michael Smith played under both coaches and said, while there are differences, the transition has not been that difficult, as they are very similar coaches.
“It hasn’t really honestly changed that much,” Smith said. “Coach Price was an assistant under Coach Bowles. The only difference is that it is a little more light-hearted now.
“Coach Bowles is more of an old-school type of coach, whereas Coach Price is old-school, but with a twist.”