Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. cheers from the sideline after Liberty scores a touchdown against Maine during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, in Lynchburg, Va. | Emily Elconinm, The News & Advance via AP

BYU and Liberty — two of the nation’s most prominent religiously affiliated college football programs — play Saturday in Provo. The meeting invites a question: Just what does football mean to each school’s mission?

SALT LAKE CITY — Jerry Falwell Jr. is coming to Provo this weekend, and not for a theological or political summit. He’ll be at LaVell Edwards Stadium, witnessing the fulfillment of his father’s vision.

He sat among the congregation of Thomas Road Baptist Church in 1970, when the Rev. Jerry Falwell Sr. — the man who rose to fame as a prominent televangelist and founder of the Moral Majority — first shared this vision. Not spiritual in nature, but as tangible as the pews where they sat: A university that would become for evangelical Christians what BYU is to Latter-Day Saints; what Notre Dame is to Catholics.

And like those schools, Liberty University would become a football powerhouse. One day, he predicted, Liberty would play at Notre Dame, Baylor and BYU, becoming a source of pride to evangelicals across America.

The road was long. The Flames started playing football in 1973. In 1988, they joined the NCAA’s FCS — then Division I-AA — where they languished for 29 years.

But since Falwell Jr. became Liberty’s president in 2007 following his father’s death, he’s labored to elevate the program. Thanks to an influx of money from online adult education, he’s invested $1.6 billion in infrastructure projects, many related to athletics. They include a $32 million athletic administration building, new swimming and indoor track and field complexes, and a $29 million indoor football practice facility. Critics say Liberty is tilting too much toward athletics, but Falwell dismisses those comments.

“It’s kind of comical to me when people say Liberty has left its original mission to go big-time in sports, because that was the original mission,” he said.

In 2017, when Liberty finally started moving to the FBS level, the top tier of college football, BYU was among the first calls athletic director Ian McCaw made.

Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Baylor are all religious schools that have thrived on the gridiron, but BYU — along with Notre Dame — was Liberty’s role model. In fact, Falwell Jr. said the “LU” that decorates Liberty Mountain in Lynchburg was inspired by a trip to Utah some 15 years ago, when he saw the Y.

“BYU is very much a program that we aspire towards as a faith-based school that’s had tremendous success,” McCaw said, “including winning the national championship.”

Saturday the Flames arrive with firepower. Liberty (6-3) ranks 19th in the nation in passing offense. Senior quarterback Stephen Calvert’s 293 yards passing per game rank 13th, and senior wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden ranks third among receivers in yards per …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Sports News

      

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What’s at stake for Liberty Saturday at BYU? The realization of a 48-year vision

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