By:  J. Daniel Pearson

The 2022 football season was a challenging one for the Liberty Chargers, where the practices started in August without a head coach in place and little went right in a 0-10 season. Coach Antony Smith was dismissed at the end of the season.

Knowing a drastic change in culture was needed, the Chargers turned to former Dr. Phillips standout Dee Hart to turn their program around.

To date, the reviews have been positive and rival coaches have praised the hire.  “Dee Hart is a good football man, who has a ton of passion for what he does.  I learned that by just talking to him for a few minutes at media day” St. Cloud head coach Mike Short noted.  “It may take him a year or two to turn it around, but I think they made a great hire.”  Another county coach who did not want to be identified agreed.  “He knows the game, he’s young enough to relate to the players and they are going to love playing for him,” the coach said.  “He’s going to do a great job there.”

New Chargers athletic director Chad Springer, who came aboard just a few weeks ago, also gave a ringing endorsement to his coach.  “In the few days I have been here, I’ve been incredibly impressed with his passion, commitment and desire.  I am a former assistant football coach and after talking to him I almost asked him if he needed another assistant.  His passion, his love of the game and dedication to his players is infectious.”

Hart played collegiately at Alabama and Colorado State, had a brief stint in the NFL and most recently was the junior varsity head coach at Frostproof in Polk County.  The challenge of taking over the Liberty program fits his personality.  “I like giving back to the community because I was brought up with a less fortunate background, just like many of the students here” Hart said. “We didn’t have many role models, and if there were role models, they were the bad role models leading you down the wrong path. I’ve always wanted to be that person who can offer the younger generation a chance to take a different path.”

It will start this season with his first head high school coaching job. 

Hart will have some talent to build around, including senior quarterback Jeremiah Pierre-Louis and junior running back Jaylin “JJ” Vaughan on offense.  Defensively, linebacker brothers Xae’dyn and Xae’Vez Brown return as does Emanuel Marreno.   OL/DL Joshua Fabian and Amos Toussaint will anchor the lines.

“We do not have a lot of experience returning but what we do have is guys that want to be here and have accepted the responsibility of leading this team,” Hart noted.

After finishing the season with barely 30 players in uniform, Liberty listed about 50 players on its preseason roster, a tribute to the interest Coach Hart is stirring in the program.  And while those numbers include a lot of freshman and sophomores, it should provide Liberty with the building blocks it needs to return to competitiveness.

Hart says that success this season will be not necessarily be defined in wins and losses but in changing the culture of the program.  “When I first got here, I was sort of taken back by the lack of pride and lack of support for the program.  We are going to change that and get back to where being a student athlete means something.  We are going to work hard, we are going to be accountable to ourselves and each other and we are going to be a program our school, our students and our community can be proud of,” Hart said.  “But don’t get me wrong, I am very competitive by nature.  From day one, we will try to win every game we play.”

2023 Schedule

Kickoff Classic (Exhibition)

  • Aug. 18 at Lake Buena Vista 7 p.m.

Regular Season

  • Aug. 25 Tohopekaliga 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 1 Orlando Christian Prep 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 8 at St. Cloud 7:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 15 Davenport 7:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 21 at Celebration 7:30 p.m.
  • Sept. 29 Gateway 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 13 at Auburndale 7:30 p.m.
  • Oct. 20 at Lake Wales 6 p.m.
  • Oct. 27 Lake Region 7:30 p.m.
  • Nov. 3 at Poinciana 7 p.m.

SOURCE: Liberty High School