By KEITH SPARKS
Over the holiday break, the 2017 13-4A Football All-District Team was announced, and it included 14 Liberty Hill Panthers, eight of whom were named to the All-District First Team.
On the offensive end, junior Kyle Harrison was named the district’s first-team running back, senior Hunter Oncken was named first-team fullback, senior Dalton Phifer was named first-team tight end, junior Lakota Lawrence was named first-team tackle, junior Justin Montgomery was named first-team guard, and junior Josh Lapuszynski was named first-team center.
This was Lapuszynski’s first selection to the All-District Team, and the honor of receiving such an award in a district as talented as 13-4A was this season isn’t lost on him.
“It’s really an honor, because we work so hard in the offseason,” Lapuszynski said. “We’ve been pushed a lot by our coaches, and me and my teammates have just fought through so much, so it feels like the hard work is really paying off.”
Lapuszynski said the coaching staff keeps word of the awards pretty close to the chest, so the announcement was a complete surprise to him.
“I really wasn’t sure,” he said. “Our coaches are real critiquing of us, so we’re always trying to get better, and we don’t like to say we’re doing too great during the season. I was kind of surprised. I was real excited, and I was relieved, also, because I wasn’t sure if I was going to get it or not. I’m also real thankful for all of the people that have helped me out.”
Each of the Panthers named to the All-District First-Team Offense played a big role in the running game, either by running or blocking, so those selections speak heavily to their success with the ground game as a whole this season.
“We’re just protecting our backs,” Lapuszynski said of his fellow first-team linemen. “We’re fighting for them. We’ve got our coaches, also, and I’ve got to thank them. Coach (John) Hall, Coach (David) Griffin, Coach (Rudy) Acevedo, they always have us prepared for what to expect that week in the game, and we always know what we need to do.”
Each of the three linemen selected to the First-Team Offense is a junior, which means their expectations for next season will be even higher.
“We expect even more every year,” Lapuszynski said. “We expect to have a great offseason and come out and be even stronger next year.”
Senior Grant Supak was named first-team inside linebacker as the lone Panther to be named to the First-Team Defense, and senior Michael Shipley was named first-team kicker.
Senior Elijah Davis was the only Panther to be named to the Second-Team Offense as a returner, while senior Ethan Thom was named second-team inside linebacker, junior Kory Schmidt was named second-team defensive end, senior Marcus Grimm was named second-team defensive tackle, junior Wyatt Cheney was named second-team safety, and senior J. Paul Madison was named second-team snapper.
In addition to the 14 All-District selections, 10 Panther football players and two athletic trainers were named to the Texas High School Coaches Association’s (THSCA) Academic All-State Team, including Phifer, who was the only Panther to be named an Academic All-State Elite selection.
Academic All-State selections are based on a combination of GPA, class rank, and ACT/SAT scores, and the Elite selections represent the best of the best.
“It is a great honor to make the Elite team, as a player must have near perfect scores in all categories,” the THSCA website reads.
For Phifer, the elusive Elite award means just as much as, if not more than, his athletic All-District selection.
“The academic part meant just as much as the playing side, or even more, to me,” Phifer said. “I’ve always worked, ever since junior high, to be in the top 5 percent of my class so I can go to UT and pursue a business degree. That’s always been my primary focus, even before football.”
While Phifer took home Elite status, Riley LaDuque, Carson Schwertner, Zachary Wilemon, and Madison were each named First-Team Academic All-State. Christopher Neill was named Second-Team Academic All-State, as was athletic trainer Sophia Inestroza. Ethan Thom, Landry Bolin, Oncken, Supak, and athletic trainer Chloe Dupre were named Honorable Mention.