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DeMattia set to return to quarterback for Liberty

Staff photo / Joel Whetzel Liberty quarterback Derek DeMattia throws a pass during practice Tuesday at Liberty High School. DeMattia is set to start under center Friday night at Western Reserve after playing tight end last season.

LIBERTY — Liberty quarterback Derek DeMattia readily admits there are some nerves and some excitement ahead of Friday night’s game at Western Reserve.

For DeMattia, Friday night isn’t just the Leopards’ season opener, however. It also marks his first start under center since the 2020 season.

“I’m really nervous to get my first snaps at quarterback again, but I’m excited,” DeMattia said. “I know I’ve got a lot of talent on both sides of the ball … I know I’m not going to be by myself on the field Friday.”

As DeMattia’s return to the position approaches, he says he’s leaning on his coaches and teammates and is focusing on his own responsibilities.

“It’s just do my job and only my job,” the senior said. “My other 10 players — my teammates, my brothers — are going to do their job at the end of the day.”

It’s not as though DeMattia is totally unfamiliar with the offense, however. He spent 2021 as a tight end in the Leopards’ scheme while D.C. Ferrell, who transferred to Ursuline during the offseason, played quarterback.

DeMattia says not much has changed schematically this year. Head coach Joe Simon echoed those sentiments.

“The good thing about our offense is you don’t have to change it. You don’t have to make (schematic adjustments),” Simon said. “All we need to do is just run things that are better-suited for his strengths, and he has a lot of strengths.”

Among them, Simon says, are arm strength, improved accuracy and a bit more confidence this season.

“He was kind of unsure of himself at quarterback (in 2021). He was kind of second-guessing himself, his reads and his ability to excel at that position,” Simon said.

That could have been partially due to the 2020 campaign, the coach added. The Leopards went 1-6, and DeMattia struggled in his first-ever season as a quarterback.

“He got thrown into the fire, and he struggled. Anyone put in that position as a sophomore having never played that position, and then you’re playing on Friday nights, it just didn’t work out very well,” Simon said.

This year, however, has been a “night and day” difference, both in confidence and accuracy.

“His accuracy has made tremendous strides from last year. I don’t know if it’s footwork; I don’t know if it’s confidence. It’s probably a little bit of everything. His confidence is through the roof right now, and he’s just playing lights out,” Simon noted.

And, as DeMattia pointed out, he isn’t without weapons. Chris Cunningham returns at receiver after grabbing 53 receptions for 1,012 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2021, all team highs.

“(Derek) and Chris have been our best players, and it’s not even close,” Simon noted.

He also has up-and-comers like Tawann Tutwiler, Dwayne Moody and Colton Wipprecht out wide, and a stable of running backs Simon previously has said will operate by committee.

So far, DeMattia says the group has worked to hold each other accountable, creating a strong bond. That, the quarterback added, has helped him settle into the position again.

As for Friday night, Simon says the Leopards’ coaching staff will try and help him get into a rhythm early by calling plays in DeMattia’s wheelhouse.

“You try and run some plays that he’s comfortable with, and he’s comfortable with a majority of our offense, so that gives us the liberty to do a lot of different things. But you don’t want to start the game off by drawing up all kinds of funky schemes that he’s not used to. You want to try and keep it simple, and once he has a couple plays, maybe take a shot,” Simon said.

And at the end of the day, Simon added, DeMattia just needs to trust himself and continue to make those around him better.

“The best leaders are the guys who get the people around them to also improve, and that’s not easily done. You really have to be a special kind of person to do that, to let guys know that you believe in them and you’re willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to bring out the best in them,” Simon said. “Derek’s that kind of person, he really is. There’s not anyone else on the team I want to see succeed more than Derek DeMattia.”

The Leopards and Blue Devils kick off at 7 p.m.

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