Following an 0-10 finish a year ago and a coaching change during the off-season, it would be easy to suggest that the Liberty Leopards of 2012 are in a rebuilding mode.
Just don't suggest it to Cody BuCher.
BuCher is one of 17 seniors on the Liberty roster. The 6-foot-1, 230-pound two-way performer has already earned a pair of varsity letters. He started as a defensive tackle as a sophomore. As a junior, he maintained his starting role on defense, and also started on offense as a tackle.
This fall, BuCher will again anchor both the offensive and defensive lines for the Leopards.
He will also help usher in a new era of football at Liberty.
"I'm not going to say that we'll go 10-0, but there is talent on this team," BuCher said. "There is a group of us who have been playing together since we were in the seventh grade, and we're pretty determined to turn things around right now."
After 17 years, Jeff Whittaker stepped down as the head coach following the 0-10 season. Under Whittaker (100-82), the Leopards enjoyed a string of success. Beginning in 2000, the program went nine straight years without a losing season. In that span, the Leopards reached the playoffs five times.
However, things have recently gone downhill. The Leopards are just 5-25 during the the past three years, including last year's no-win season.
Whittaker was replaced by Brian Jones, an alum of the school and football program who last year served as an assistant.
"It's been frustrating, because I grew up watching Liberty do all these good things, then all of a sudden everything fell apart when my class got here," BuCher said. "I'm excited. Coach Jones has brought new life to the program. I know (Whittaker) did some good things here, but some of his ways didn't seem to work lately."
BuCher said that while "frustrations boiled over at times" during the struggles of last year, he believes players have since united. He noted that participation was strong for winter and spring weight-lifting sessions. Spirits have been high during summer workouts.
"Even when there was tension, I think we all realized that we were frustrated for the same reason," BuCher said. "We became much closer during the off-season. I think that a lot of us seniors realized it was time to pull things together."
BuCher has been playing football since he was in the third grade. His role has always been as a lineman. And while he prefers defense over offense, he especially likes the fact that he can play both ways. He was a two-way starter for most of his career, with the exception of his sophomore season.
"It drove me crazy to be on the sidelines when we were on offense. I wasn't used to that," BuCher said. "A little breather here and there is nice, but I want to be involved in just about every play. I want to feel like I'm contributing on both sides."
Jones said that BuCher's team-first attitude has stood out this summer. As a player, Jones said that BuCher "paves the way for both our offense and defense." As a team leader, he has set a tone which has been picked up by the rest of the senior class.
"Cody is all about making those around him better players. He is constantly doing what he can to help the younger players out," Jones said. "He is very sincere in his leadership role, and others see what he's all about and I think they join his lead."
BuCher will be part of a front line on both offense and defense which returns multiple starters. The size, speed and experience, especially on defense, should make the unit a strong point this year for the Leopards.
"We know that the pressure is on us to step it up and perform," BuCher said. "We like the fact that a lot of how our season plays out will be determined by what we do up front. We're excited about the challenge because it will force us to work even harder to turn this thing around."
Liberty opens its season Friday with a home game against Salem.