Turner Gill has endured plenty of challenges in his life. But this current test is a real humdinger.
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The 50-year-old Gill, who is still a legend on the Nebraskan plains for his exploits as a Cornhusker, is now trying to rewrite history some 1,200 miles east of Lincoln in Lynchburg, Va. As Liberty University's first-year head football coach, he has assumed the vanguard of the school's five-decade quest for national football relevancy.
"We're here to teach people about glorifying Christ and be conference champions and national champions," said Gill, whose team is off to a rocky 0-4 start as it prepares to host Gardner-Webb on Oct. 6. "The vision is clear. That's why it fit me. I'm excited about that."
Last May, Liberty, with 12,500 on-campus students, announced its intentions to move up to the Football Bowl Subdivision, the highest level of NCAA competition, after a sports consulting firm contracted by the school finished an expansive feasibility study. The football team, currently a member of the Big South Conference like the rest of Liberty's athletic teams, competes in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly called Division I-AA). Liberty's other 19 athletic programs compete at the top NCAA Division I level.
The Flames drew an average home game attendance of 16,419 fans in 2011 and 16,216 in 2010, meeting the NCAA's FBS eligibility requirements of at least 15,000 fans every other year. And the program is ready to increase its NCAA-mandated scholarship amount from 63 to 85, according to athletic director Jeff Barber. In addition, Barber said plans are in place to increase Williams Stadium's current seating capacity of 19,200 to 25,000 soon, with the ultimate goal being 70,000.
All that remains for Liberty to reach the FBS level, school officials say, is an invitation from a member conference. Liberty has been linked most closely in published reports to Conference USA, the Mid-American Conference, the Sun Belt Conference and even the Western Athletic Conference.
"We've been calling around," Barber said. "We're willing and able to go into any conference. Obviously, there are some we know we can't go to. But there are two or three that are possibilities. We're keeping communication lines open with them and letting them know our interest."
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SOURCE: Baptist Press