NORTH LIBERTY — This means something to Jeff Gordon. A lot something.
It’s not just that it’s the first head football coaching job for him after 12 years as an assistant at the prep and college levels. That’d seem plenty enough.
But that he’s the first guy here of all places, at Liberty High School, is special. Beyond special.
“This community of North Liberty, I grew up here, and we had nothing,” Gordon said. “You went to Iowa City for something, or you went to Cedar Rapids for something. This high school is the first time everybody from town is brought together. It’s not just a church that brings their denomination together. It’s not just the people that are in Boy Scouts. This is the first time in the history of North Liberty that there is one thing we can rally around, the high school. So if our kids can understand that and that their legacy is what’s most special, then I think we will have done our jobs here.”
Gordon was a lineman at Iowa City West, began his collegiate career at Northern Illinois, then transferred to San Jose State. He was a graduate assistant there and had a full-time job lined up at Southwest Missouri State.
But his father became ill, and Gordon and his wife decided to come back home. He said it’s one of the best decision he’s ever made.
An assistant at Iowa City High and Cedar Rapids Prairie, he took over the Liberty freshman program two years ago. Keep in mind, he was coaching kids still going to West because Liberty hadn’t been constructed, yet.
There was no school, no playing field, no practice field. Gordon got a teaching job at Liberty when it opened last fall, moved up to coach the school’s sophomore football team and was selected its first varsity coach this past winter.
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“The one thing we knew was he was going to be all in, regardless of whether he was head coach or on our staff,” said Liberty Activities Director Mike Morrison. “He has put in the time, and brought these kids along the best he could with what he had to work with, as far as trying to manage practice facilities. He deserves a shot to be the head football coach at Liberty High, and he’s got it.”
“This has been the greatest three years of my life, basically,” Gordon said. “It’s like life. We weren’t promised anything, we attacked the first day of practice (two years ago) like we did today. We told these guys their tackle spot or their quarterback spot is just like ours. Anybody can apply for it and come beat you out. But you can’t worry about that. You just attack every day. You are either hunting, or you’re being hunted. It’s a lot easier to go through life hunting than being hunted. If you’re always on the attack, you don’t have to worry about anything.”
At Liberty’s first practice a couple of weeks ago, Gordon was tough with his players but also positive. He went without shoes and socks, believe it or not, showing off purple-painted toenails, courtesy of his young daughters.
Purple is Liberty’s primary school color.
“He’s really tough, he pushes you, corrects every single thing you do wrong,” said Liberty junior running back-wide receiver-defensive back Kaleb Williams. “I can see myself improving every single practice, and he just really helps with that.”
“He gets a little crazy, he gets on you,” said junior lineman Ryan Nugent. “But he loves you. I love playing for him.”
Liberty has only one senior in its program, with 24 juniors and about 50 combined freshmen and sophomores. It will be the younger team, no matter who it plays this season.
But that will not be used as an excuse. The expectations are to “be the best that the Bolts can be,” continue to work and improve and help set that kind of culture for the program.
“That’s the thing I get mad about our guys,” Gordon said. “I don’t want to hear anything about ‘Oh, it’s going to be tough because we don’t have seniors. Oh, it’s going to be tough because of this or that.’ If it wasn’t this situation, they’d be at (another) high school standing behind a senior and not playing. We (as coaches) wouldn’t have gotten this job if they would have opened it with a varsity staff. We were able to get our foot in the door, work our tails off and get it.
“The bottom line is let’s not downplay the opportunity we’ve got here.”
Iowa City Liberty, at a glance
Coach: Jeff Gordon (1st year)
Last year: First year as a varsity program
Top returners: First year as a varsity program
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Key to making the playoffs: Is making the playoffs realistic? With only one senior on the roster, playing above their experience level will be very important to a good season. Stay healthy (going back to that one-senior thing).
Games to watch: Week 1 at Iowa City High, the first-ever varsity game, The home opener Week 2 against Waterloo East.
Aug. 24 — at Iowa City High
Aug. 31 — Waterloo East
Sept. 7 — at Washington (Iowa)
Sept. 14 — Mid-Prairie
Sept. 21 — at Clear Creek-Amana
Sept. 28 — North Scott
Oct. 5 — DeWitt Central
Oct. 12 — at Davenport Assumption
Oct. 19 — at Clinton
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