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Liberty follows Gorman’s lead in becoming football power

By 2016, Liberty High School had elevated its football program to where it thought it might be able to compete with Bishop Gorman. The teams met for the Class 4A state championship at Sam Boyd Stadium that year.

Gorman won 84-8.

“That was probably the worst loss of my career, for sure,” Liberty’s veteran coach Rich Muraco said. “We had been regional champions nine of the last 10 years. Most of the time our season ended at the hands of Gorman.”

In 2019, the teams met again for the Desert Region title. Liberty won 30-24 in overtime.

It was Gorman’s first loss to a Nevada opponent in 11 years.

“Early on, when Gorman started to take on national opponents, we’re like ‘What can we do to close the gap between us and them?’ ” Muraco said of pulling off the upset that made longtime observers of the local prep football scene blink in disbelief.

“They have a lot of advantages public schools don’t — facilities, traveling and doing that kind of stuff. We’ve just took the approach we’ve got to do some of the similar things they’re doing.”

Combined with Nevada’s liberal transfer policies — “I got like seven Coronado football players that transferred, and that’s what allowed us to go from 4-5 to 8-4,” Muraco said — and an upgraded schedule, the Patriots made significant strides.

The Liberty administration backed Muraco’s approach, then so did the parents. Never underestimate the power of PB&J, he said.

“The (booster) club at Gorman gives their kids protein shakes, and they have a nutrition bar,” Muraco said. “We can’t afford to do that, but we needed to come up with a plan to feed our kids after school even if it’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Our parent club got behind that.”

Strength in numbers

It wasn’t long before Liberty started closing the gap of the Gaels.

“The first time we played Gorman was in 2011,” Muraco recalled. “We gave them a game — it was 28-27 with like a minute to go in the third quarter. They pulled away in the fourth quarter, and that’s because our kids were tired. We had seven kids that played both ways.

“As we started to do more of the things I’m talking about, we started getting more and more kids. Now we’re at a point where we don’t have anybody who plays both ways.”

In 2019 when Liberty knocked off Gorman in the last state playoffs before COVID, it started the season 0-5 against national top 30 teams, though Muraco said the Patriots were competitive in most of those games.

Starting 0-5 might have been a blow to another team’s confidence, he said. “But I wanted our kids to see some adversity because they’re going to face adversity when they play Gorman.”

The Liberty coach said if the Patriots now can beat Gorman with a quarterback who was fourth on the depth chart at the start of the season as they did the last time they faced the Gaels, they owe much of it to the Gorman blueprint.

“I’ve always said they should be allowed to compete against the public school teams, (and) we always want to be the team that beats them,” Muraco said.

“We would not be as good as we are right now if it weren’t for Gorman. We keep challenging ourselves to be as good as them.”

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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