Head coach: Bryan Nixon
Sixth season at Liberty (43-18); 23rd season overall (148-88-1)
Last season: 6-5 overall, 5-0 SWYL
Playoffs: Lost in Central Section D-I quarterfinals
History: League titles (8); Section titles (2)
Assistant coaches: Ryan Renz, defensive coordinator; Rick Tucker, offensive line/tight ends; Phil Alvidrez, offensive line/defensive line; Tim Antongiovanni, special teams; Jason Oliver, defensive backs/wide receivers; Rick Brogdon, linebacker/running back; Justin Crane, linebackers/running backs; Mike Lewis, running backs/quarterbacks; Davis Rice, offensive line; David Jacobsen, defensive line; Craig McMahon, special teams

2018 schedule

Aug. 17 - at Mission Viejo
Aug. 24 - vs. Ridgeview
Aug. 31 - vs. Clovis West
Sept. 7 - vs. Clovis-Buchanan
Sept. 14 - at Clovis
Sept. 21 - BYE
Sept. 28 - vs. Centennial*
Oct. 5 - at Frontier*
Oct. 12 - at Stockdale*
Oct. 19 - vs. Garces*
Oct. 26 - at Bakersfield*
*SWYL game

Top returner

Sam Stewart Jr., senior, RB/LB - Big, bruising back is a load to get on the ground and has athleticism in his game as well. Led the Patriots in rushing last year with 1,192 yards (6.5 yards per carry) while scoring 12 touchdowns on the ground. Expect more of the same in 2018.

Key players

Daniel Viveros, senior, OL/DL - This is one strong individual, expected to anchor the lines of scrimmage for the Patriots. Viveros, who was the 2017 track and field shot put champion, will play center and offensive tackle on the football field. He’s also expected to get some work on the defensive line. A three-year varsity player.

Anthony Villanueva, senior, RB/LB - A standout linebacker who plays with passion and intensity. Villanueva is a downhill runner who can also get out in pass coverage defensively.

Hunter Riley, senior, WR/DB - A big hitter defensively and a good route runner with solid hands on the offensive side of the ball. Riley is also a threat on kick returns for the Patriots.

Defining feature?

They’re going to play to their strengths — a ground-and-pound approach with a strong offensive line blocking for standout running back Sam Stewart Jr.

That isn’t necessarily a new thing. Head coach Bryan Nixon said the Patriots — one of the strongest programs in Bakersfield year-in and year-out — typically spread the field to run the football.

Nixon said while Stewart will obviously be emphasized, he also likes Anthony Villanueva out of the backfield along with fellow senior Winton Jountti.

“Just go down the list. There’s a lot of running backs for us this year,” Nixon said. “That’s going to be one of the things we really focus on. We have to pound the football.”

Nixon said the team ran double-tight end sets 25 percent of the time last year and that the Patriots could go to single-tight end or two-back alignments this season in an attempt to get their best players on the field.

“Interior wise — both lines, linebacker, running backs — we’ve got a lot of returning guys which I think is going to be the strength of our football team,” the head coach said.

What’s changed?

Finding an adequate replacement for last year’s starting quarterback Isaiah Hill is going to play a huge factor.

HIll was an excellent athlete, although chose to focus solely on basketball — his strongest sport — entering his senior season. What’s left for the Patriots is last year’s backup QB (and standout Liberty golfer) Dakota Ochoa and Visalia-Redwood transfer Hector Gonzalez.

“They’re both battling well. Got a good grasp on our philosophy and what we want to do offensively,” Nixon said at the outset of fall camp. “Who’s making plays? That’s the big thing as we go forward. Who takes charge of this thing and runs with this football team? That’s one of the biggest things that we’ve got to have.”

The Patriots didn’t get a ton out of the wide receiver position last year. This offseason they got Independence transfer Ramon Henderson, who could help stretch the field.

Nixon said Henderson, a standout track athlete, could provide Liberty with the deep threat it missed in the passing game last year.

Teddy Feinberg can be reached at 661-395-7324. Follow him on Twitter: @TeddyFeinberg.

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