Liberty Flames’ Top 10 Returning Players Include Kaidon Salter, Quinton Cooley

The Liberty Flames almost lost CUSA MVP Kaidon Salter to the transfer portal, but he'll be back in 2024, leading the top 10 returners to Lynchburg.

The sixth season of existence for the Liberty Flames football program was a banner year by all metrics. They won the most games (13-1) in a season in the program’s short history, finished No. 25 in the final AP poll, won Conference USA its first season as a full member, and received a New Year’s Six Bowl invitation, losing to No. 8 Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl, 45-6.

On top of that, the Flames are returning nine of their 15 2023 All-CUSA selections, including the reigning conference MVP, QB Kaidon Slater. Head coach Jamey Chadwell enters his second season in Lynchburg and will have plenty of other returners coming back for an encore.

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Liberty Flames’ Top 10 Returners in 2024

10) Jerome Jolly, LB

Jerome Jolly has played in 43 games for the Flames over the last four seasons, amassing 78 tackles in his time with Liberty. 55 of those tackles came last year, as did his first two career interceptions and his first sack.

As part of the 2020 COVID class, Jolly has one season left and proved he can excel with a full workload last season. He’ll be one of several returners for a defense that ranked third in scoring (24.3 points per game) and second in total yards allowed (372.8) in CUSA last season.

9) TJ Bush, DE

TJ Bush joined the Flames last year as a true freshman, turning down Power Five offers from Maryland and Boston College. The 6’2″, 255-pound defensive end was named to the Freshman All-CUSA Team after racking up 25 tackles, five for a loss, and a sack, along with four pass breakups.

The fact that he was ready to play that competitively on an FBS line of scrimmage straight out of high school bodes well for his development. If he comes back to Lynchburg for his junior season, he’s likely to be much higher on this list.

8) Xavier Gray, OL

Listed at 6’9″ and 330 pounds, Xavier Gray joined the Flames last season after four years in Akron and jumped right into the starting lineup, earning an All-CUSA honorable mention nod.

Surprisingly, he still has two years left to play after a redshirt in 2019 and open eligibility from the 2020 season due to COVID. He’ll be back in Lynchburg in his junior year for an offensive line unit that paved the way for the ninth-highest-scoring offense (38.3 points per game) in the country last year.

7) CJ Bazile Jr., DL

After playing sparingly during his freshman season in 2022, CJ Bazile Jr. asserted his will in his sophomore year with 41 tackles, 8.5 for a loss, and two sacks in 12 games. With versatility playing on the interior and the end of the line, he earned an All-CUSA honorable mention.

Listed at 6’1″ and 250 pounds, the Miami native recorded 21 sacks in his senior season of high school in 2021. Between Bazile and Bush, the Flames have solid youth returning on their defensive line for 2024.

6) Billy Lucas, RB

Liberty had the top rushing offense in the country last season (293.3 yards per game), and Billy Lucas was a big part of that. In his first season after three at Duquesne, Lucas rushed for 597 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry.

He earned an All-CUSA honorable mention after his first season with the Flames and will return for his senior season in 2024.

5) Jordan White, OL

Jordan White spent his first three college football seasons with the West Virginia Mountaineers but didn’t play much off the bench. That changed for the 6’2″, 295-pound junior when he got to Liberty, earning Second-Team All-CUSA honors as the catalyst for one of the top offensive line units in the conference.

MORE: Conference USA 2024 College Football Schedule

White is one of several key returning players for what was statistically the best offense in CUSA last fall.

4) Jay Hardy, DL

The Flames had the second-best rush defense in CUSA last season (116.9 yards per game), thanks largely to run-stuffing defensive tackle Jay Hardy. He recorded 31 tackles, five for a loss with two sacks, but his impact runs deeper than the stats as he routinely bends the line of scrimmage to his will, allowing his teammates to make plays.

Hardy, listed at 6’2″ and 300 pounds, has started on the defensive line for the Flames the last two seasons after not playing at all in his first two years with the Auburn Tigers. A Second-Team All-CUSA selection last year, he’s back to offer much-needed senior leadership on the defensive line.

3) Brylan Green, S

A First-team All-CUSA selection in 2023, Brylan Green is a two-year starter at safety for the Flames. As a true freshman in 2022, he recorded 32 tackles with one defended pass. Last season, he had 38 tackles, three for a loss and a sack, while leading the team with five interceptions and 13 passes defended. He also returned eight punts for 58 yards (7.3 per return).

If Green’s development from his first to second season is an indicator of things to come, he could become one of the top safeties in the nation. The Flames will need him as they finished last in CUSA in pass defense last season (255.9 yards per game).

2) Quinton Cooley, RB

After two years at Wake Forest, Quinton Cooley transferred to Liberty before last season and immediately became first-year head coach Jamey Chadwell’s primary back. Playing in all 14 games, Cooley rushed for 1,401 yards (6.1 per carry) and scored 16 touchdowns as a main catalyst for the top rushing offense in the country.

A First-Team All-CUSA selection and CUSA Newcomer of the Year as a junior, Cooley is set to return as a senior for the Flames. With Lucas also returning to the Flames’ backfield, the Liberty run-game is in good hands.

1) Kaidon Salter, QB

The CUSA MVP in 2023 almost left the conference, or at least Liberty, when Salter decided to enter the portal in January. That was short-lived, as Chadwell convinced him to return for 2024 after a sophomore season that saw him pass for 2,876 yards and 32 touchdowns while rushing for 1,089 yards and 12 scores.

KEEP READING: 2024 CUSA Transfer Portal Rankings

Getting a player back that accounted for 44 touchdowns and combined for nearly 4,000 yards offense is a big win for a Liberty. Still, it’s especially important considering it is at the most important position on the field. The Flames are set up nicely for repeat success in 2024, and the consistency Salter brings to a thriving Liberty offensive system elevates that even more.

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