Kevin Cylar didn't start at the helm for the Liberty football program's return to prominence, but he wants to make sure the Leopards stay at the top.
The Liberty Board of Education approved the hiring of the former Ursuline assistant as head football coach on Monday afternoon, making Cylar the successor to former coach Brian Jones. In one year under Jones, Liberty went 9-3 and made its first playoff appearance since 2008.
Used to being a member of the team for which everybody's gunning for (Ursuline), Cylar said he hopes to advance the progress made last season.
"It's a privilege to try to be the king of the mountain and have everybody shooting at you," Cylar said. "Going into the season, we are the champs, and that's the way we'll come out and play. We're very excited about that title and hopefully we can build on all of that momentum that started last year."
Cylar admitted he knew very little about the Liberty football team from 2012, as he was committed to the Fighting Irish, but over the weekend he watched some game film and liked what he saw.
In terms of players he will have back, senior quarterback Asim Pleas will be a focal point for the Leopards in 2013. The dual-threat quarterback went 81 for 127 through the air for 901 yards, rushed 104 times for 414 yards and scored a combined 13 touchdowns.
Joining him on the returning starters list will be five others on the defensive side, including Danny Markulin. The senior linebacker tied for the team lead in interceptions last season with four and returned one of those for a touchdown in Liberty's 47-32 win over Jefferson on Sept. 21.
"You can see the talent," Cylar said. "You can see that the kids play hard. We'll see what happens. We'll see who's coming back, who's coming out, who's eligible, who's going to make the commitment that it's going to take to be a good football team."
If there's one thing Cylar hopes to carry over from his time at Ursuline, it's the mentality of the team.
The 1991 East graduate said that whenever the Fighting Irish stepped onto the field, they commanded respect from their opponents, and he wants the Leopards to earn that respect every time they step onto the field in the fall.
"When you see Ursuline come out and play, you know that you're watching a top-notch caliber team," Cylar said. "I want to make sure that my guys when they walk into the arena, stadium, what have you, people know, 'OK, we're going to see a good football team.'
"It's going to be about respect. We want to be respected. We're going to do everything possible to get that respect."
One of the main goals for Cylar as a coach is to consistently make it to the playoffs, something that the Liberty football program has struggled to do in its history.
The last time the Leopards managed to qualify for consecutive playoff appearances came during the 2004 to 2006 seasons, and the first time the program ever qualified for the playoffs came in 2000.
"Since I've started coaching, (my team's) been playing regularly till November," Cylar said. "That's just my mindset. We're supposed to be playing (then), and that's the way I will approach it from Day One. We want to be playing in November, and that's how we'll prepare.
"We'll see what happens."