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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Liberty football team’s turnaround has been community-based effort

Senior quarterback Garrett Rogers, right, and his Liberty Lancers have made steady progress through the years. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Senior quarterback Garrett Rogers, right, and his Liberty Lancers have made steady progress through the years. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Much of the success for the turnaround of the Liberty football program falls at the feet of head coach Mike Dewey.

But it runs much deeper than Dewey. The roots go to the Liberty Youth Football program that has played in a league sponsored by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

Of the 14 seniors on Liberty’s team, 12 have played together going back as far as second grade. Brian Harrington, Joe Holwegner and Ron Rogers, father of senior quarterback Garrett Rogers, were instrumental in the youth program.

When the seniors reached junior high, they went 6-0 and were unscored upon as eighth-graders playing for Harrington.

“There has been a lot of community involvement,” Harrington said. “The community support has been amazing.”

Harrington’s son, Jake, is a senior starting lineman. He’s seen the seniors evolve over the years.

“You have to give a lot of credit to the youth programs,” Jake said.

When the seniors reached high school, Dewey and his staff took over.

“They’ve had a huge impact,” Jake said. “They got us to the next level and helped us take the extra steps and mature us.”

Dewey is in his sixth year at Liberty. The seniors were in seventh grade when he took over.

A teacher at Rogers, he was a head coach at Manson before migrating to Spokane.

Liberty went 1-8 in Dewey’s first year. The Lancers improved to 3-7 the next year and dipped to 2-8 in the third season. But when the seniors were sophomores they showed some hope, finishing 5-5.

The Lancers had their first winning season under Dewey last year, finishing 8-4 and advancing to the state quarterfinals.

Now they sit at 12-1 as they head to the Tacoma Dome to face No. 1-ranked Napavine (13-0) Friday at 4. Napavine eliminated Liberty last season.

“We started to see improvement in the fourth year,” Dewey said. “When the seniors were in eighth grade, you could see this coming.”

It’s not likely Liberty will be as good next year as it is this season. But things are in place to sustain a level of consistency. Dewey said there’s another group in junior high that is showing similar promise as the seniors did.

“You never know how it’s going to turn out with kids in junior high,” Dewey said. “We’ve got some talented kids coming back and a few sophomores are starting. And the junior varsity went 2-2.”

Dewey knew a year ago that the best season was ahead.

“We had hopes when they were sophomores,” Dewey said. “We liked the competitive nature of the kids and they’re togetherness. They believed and supported each other. They genuinely liked each other. It’s an intangible that showed itself on the field.”

Thomas Canning, a two-way starter at left tackle and defensive tackle, is among the homegrown seniors.

“We’ve been together since elementary. We’ve grown up together,” Canning said. “We knew if we put our minds to it and worked as a team, we would be at this spot and that good things would happen.”

Dewey and his players also credit defensive coordinator Mike Ganey.

Ganey, 68, was the head coach at University for 16 years.

Dewey and Ganey met while golfing at Liberty Lake Golf Course. Dewey asked Ganey to join him at Liberty, and Ganey has been alongside the last six years.

“I give him quite a bit of credit,” Canning said of Ganey. “You can’t run a good program without good coaches. All of the talent doesn’t matter without some direction. Defense wins games.”

That’s been especially true for the Lancers this season.

“Having him as defensive coordinator has been absolutely crucial,” Dewey said.

“We have some very talented athletes with a high work ethic,” said Ganey, a Buffalo, New York, native who is in his 30th year teaching at U-Hi. “They play for each other. They’re very unselfish. They’re students of the game.”

Ganey has enjoyed every moment at Liberty.

“It’s been special,” Ganey said. “This could be my last rodeo.”

But Ganey said much of the praise for Liberty’s success goes to Dewey.

“He builds character and makes players accountable on and off the field,” Ganey said. “He’s put a lot of time into that program. I can’t praise him enough for what he’s done.”

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