Linebacker Sage Nua impressed Liberty football coach Lou Markouzis during his first two years on the varsity team.
The problem was, the Patriots didn’t impress too many people in that time, going 5-14 with two Southeast League victories.
But Nua and the Patriots are hoping to make a name for themselves this fall.
After knocking off then-No. 4 Silverado 6-0 last week, Markouzis said he thinks his team, 3-1 and 1-0 in the Southeast League, is well on the way to doing just that.
“I told him, ‘Great players make teams great, and that’s by wins and losses,’ ” Markouzis said of Nua, a 6-foot-1-inch, 225-pound inside linebacker and fullback. “’If we don’t win, and you’re a great player on a losing team, you’re not going to get any exposure. But if you can help our program win as a senior, you’re going to start getting the exposure that is necessary.’
“Hopefully that victory on Friday will put Sage out on the same level as those other Division I players that are out there, because in my opinion, he’s on the same level.”
Nua has been a big part of Liberty’s start, leading the team with 36 total tackles and also chipping in on offense, where he scored the lone touchdown in the Silverado game.
“He’s one of the best kids that I’ve ever coached, without question,” Markouzis said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s an absolutely focused student in the classroom. He’s very physical. He’s a very committed, loyal member of the team, and a tremendous leader on and off the field.”
While Liberty’s lack of past success might have hampered Nua’s recruiting, he has gotten some recognition.
Markouzis said UNLV, Hawaii, UNR, San Diego State, Utah and Colorado State have shown interest.
“These are all teams right on the cusp of making a move on him,” Markouzis said. “It’s just a matter of how he performs his senior year. In spite of Sage having a great year last year, he was on a 1-8 team, so he’s going to get passed up. No one’s going to recruit a guy that’s on a 1-8 team.
“Now this year, the tides have turned. And (if) we go to the playoffs and can fare pretty well this season, you’re going to get that look. You may get that offer.”
The win over Silverado was a step in the right direction. Silverado had outscored Liberty 171-28 the previous four meetings.
“It just gives us the respect that we wanted,” Nua said.
“This is the year everybody knew we were going to come out and just show what we’ve really got.”
The big win was a long time coming for the Patriots. Liberty never has won more than four games in a season and entered this year with a 10-36 record since opening in 2003.
The Patriots were outscored 457-12 that season.
But beating a Silverado team that won the Southeast League last season and has three legitimate Division I prospects was the kind of win the school had been waiting for.
“It wouldn’t be so monumental if it was against another team on our schedule,” Markouzis said. “But because it was against Silverado High School, and them having three major Division I prospects on their squad and being the champs last year, it makes it that much sweeter, not just for football but for the whole school. Truly, it was a school victory on Friday, not just a football one.”
The Silverado win gave the team a positive experience to draw upon in the next close game.
“Unfortunately for Liberty, the only experiences we had in those situations were on the other end, the loss column,” Markouzis said. “So our kids only knew how to lose. You really have to change the culture, the winning culture, and get kids to believe and turn themselves around.”
And as football coaches are fond of saying, winning breeds winning. Markouzis said he thinks this year’s team finally is getting that winning attitude.
“So far the way we’ve started this year and the big win on Friday is changing the whole aura, not just of football but the whole school,” Markouzis said. “If they believe in their heart and their mind, great things can happen. Hopefully these kids have started seeing that light and heading in that direction.”