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Green Valley visits Liberty with Southeast lead at stake

First-year Green Valley football coach Brian Castro looks at Liberty’s program and sees a tough, physical team that plays together — characteristics he thinks are key to building the Gators into a power.

They appear to be well on their way.

A year after going 1-5 in the Southeast League, seventh-ranked Green Valley (5-1, 3-0 Southeast) visits No. 5 Liberty (5-1, 3-0) at 7 p.m. today with first place in the league at stake.

“What they’ve got going in their program right now is what I’d like to get going in this program,” Castro said. “They have a real sense of community. That’s something we’re building here.

“When you get a community like that and they stick together, and they play for each other and they fight for each other, that’s going to result in some good seasons and some success. That’s absolutely our goal, to build something like that.”

That sense of community is starting to show. Senior running back Aaron Love said the team is much closer this season, something that has helped translate to success on the field.

“It makes things a lot easier when you know the guys next to you all care as much as you do and want to win as much as you do,” Love said.

Love has been a key cog this season, rushing for 1,057 yards and 16 touchdowns. But it’s the Gators’ balance that has allowed them to average 40.5 points.

They have scored at least 35 points in every game, and quarterback Jacob Olim has completed 55.9 percent of his passes for 1,103 yards and 10 TDs. He’s thrown only two interceptions.

“He’s done a great job,” Castro said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him. He hasn’t had a whole lot of experience playing football in our system. I always knew he could do it, and this year he’s stepped up and done a great job.”

That passing game has helped loosen up the ground game for Love, who already has topped his season rushing total from last season.

“If your passing game’s going, your running game opens up and it gets Aaron going, and he’s an explosive player for us,” Castro said. “The less (defensive players) they can put in the box, the better in terms of the run game. And when they pack it back in, we try and spread it back out.”

Khris Hanson leads the Gators with 24 catches for 160 yards, but the team has four receivers with at least 10 catches.

Green Valley, which has won five in a row, hasn’t made the playoffs since 2008, so playing for first place is new.

“It’s totally different,” Love said. “All of us haven’t been in this position, but we like where we are and we like the way we’ve been playing and we’re just excited to be where we are. Hopefully we can play our game and keep this winning streak going.”

Senior linebacker Daniel Duran said the team has built confidence as the win streak has gone on, especially with a pair of three-point victories in league play.

“Just kind of starting from the bottom and working your way on up, you know that all your hard work has paid off,” Duran said.

“As we go on knocking off team by team, the confidence definitely raises up. But you can’t get too big-headed about it.”

Now the Gators face perhaps the most physical team in the Sunrise Region. And Castro knows his team is still working to match the Patriots’ toughness.

“It’s always a work in progress,” Castro said. “I’m not ever sure if you can be too tough, or too physical. But our guys are learning that. We’re nowhere near where they’re at just yet, but we’re on the right path, for sure.”

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