Liberty football climbs national rankings

The Liberty Lions football team is nationally ranked for the first time in program history, at No. 16. Its 8-0 start has included a 53-0 shutout victory against Sandra Day O’Connor. (Submitted)

Liberty High School football has broken into the national top 25 rankings, according to MaxPreps, currently ranked at No. 16. Previously entering the rankings at the No. 24 spot, this the first time in program history that the Lions have been ranked in the top 25.

“I think it is certainly an honor for our entire program and school,” head coach Colin Thomas said. “It just reflects the amount of hard work and dedication that our players have put in, our coaches have put in, our community who supports us, and our admin who supports us.”

The Lions have been seemingly unstoppable this year, dishing out blowouts and convincing victories to every opponent on their schedule. The team is as well built for a playoff push as any other that may qualify for the Open Division bracket.

Led by junior quarterback Navi Bruzon, senior receiver Prince Zombo and senior running back Zach Wallace on offense, the Lions haven’t struggled to put up points. Seemingly at will, Liberty is averaging over 44 points per game.

But the strength of the country’s No. 16-ranked team lies in its defense. Spearheaded by senior defensive lineman My’Keil Gardner, senior Anthony Ruiz and junior Keaton Stam, the Lions have only allowed more than 10 points on defense just once.

Despite the dominance, Liberty has played some of the stiffest competition in the Open rankings including Chandler Basha and Phoenix Pinnacle, ranked third and fourth in the state, respectively.

“I think we have a very motivated team,” Thomas said. “We are very hungry to prove that we are certainly one of the best teams in the state of Arizona. We show up every day with that attitude, and when we got the opportunities, we played well. And we’ve got to keep playing well because there are a ton of great teams in Arizona.”

Liberty came into the season like they have the past two years, on the heels of a heartbreaking Open Division loss to the ever-dominant Chandler Wolves. Last season, the two clashed in the semifinals of the Open Division, producing an instant classic of a game that featured a last-second comeback from Chandler to tie the game. Chandler would go on to beat Liberty, 27-21.

In Thomas’ third season as head coach, Liberty hasn’t let the loss carry over to this season, rolling to an 8-0 record. The team started the year off with three straight blowouts to Sunrise Mountain, Pinnacle and Valor Christian (Colorado), 50-0, 49-7, 50-7, respectively. The momentum didn’t stop as the Lions rolled through the reigning state champions, Scottsdale Saguaro, 26-17, in its closest bout of the year thus far.

“I was very blessed to come into a great situation,” Thomas said. “We have a great program in place, a great youth program in place. We have great stability amongst our lower-level coaches. So really, I was just blessed to come into a very fortunate situation, and we are just trying to work hard to get better every year.”

Then continuing the dominant display, Liberty breezed by Basha, 35-7, who is now ranked No. 25 in the country by MaxPreps, and Phoenix Brophy Prep 48-10, which included Bruzon winning the Arizona Cardinals High School Player-of-the-Week Award. Most recently, the Lions dished out back-to-back blowouts to Glendale Mountain Ridge and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor, 42-0 and 53-0.

Liberty will finish the season with yet another tough matchup against cross town rival Centennial, who is coming off of a 30-17 victory over Mountain Ridge.

Looking into the future, the Lions are seemingly destined to make a deep playoff run, as they are currently slated as the No. 1-ranked team in the state, according to AZPreps, slotting them as the first-seeded team in the eight-team Open Division playoff bracket.

Thomas, however, has his team dialed in and ready for their next game.

“I can promise you we aren’t looking that far ahead,” he said. “Every game, at the level we play at, is a game where you have to play well or you could lose. We live in the moment, and as we get through the regular season and into the playoffs, we are going to play our opponent and whatever team is put in front of us.”

Whether looking forward to December or not, the Lions have accomplished something this season that their program will strive for year in and year out.

Despite receiving a level of recognition that it has never seen, Liberty is looking to prove that not only does it belong, but that there is still more to prove. Thomas will keep his foot on the proverbial gas pedal.

“I really love this team, and hopefully we keep playing to the best of our ability, and good things will happen for us,” Thomas said.