By Joseph Garcia
Championships are not lost in the offseason, but with hard work they certainly can be won which is good news for the Liberty Hill Panthers.
Liberty Hill athletes in grades 7-12 are hard at work in preparation for the upcoming sports seasons by participating in the Summer Weights and Conditioning Program led by head football Coach Jerry Vance and his staff.
The weightlifting camp runs from June 9-July 28 Mondays through Thursdays with athletes training throughout three sessions a day at the fully-equipped weight room at Liberty Hill High School: two for high school at 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. and one for junior high athletes from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Campers are only allowed to attend one session.
Liberty Hill Assistant Head Coach Robert Draper said this summer’s camp has had the largest attendance ever with 250 athletes showing up every day throughout all three sessions.
“We’ve got a lot of young kids here and that’s a good thing,” he said. “The kids just jump right in and haven’t been afraid of doing anything.”
Draper said the camp is curtailed for general athletics. In addition to focusing weight training on upper and lower body, conditioning drills are done as well.
“We’ll do running drills in the sand, plyometric boxes, jump ropes and sprints,” Draper said. “And it’s going to help all our kids. You need power in basketball; you need power to run in football, power to play baseball. A lot of our kids do a lot of sports.”
Not only does the camp help athletes physically and mentally, but it can be used to address some of the physical imbalances that are inherent with playing competitive, contact sports such as football.
Coach Vance encourages the offseason camp participation so that athletes from all school sports may have success.
“In any sport, I think (offseason workouts) are critical to success,” said Vance. “Everyone points to football, but all of the non-contact sports are even more dangerous than the contact sports. Reasons for offseason weights, running etc. (are to) increase muscle mass, decrease fat and increase power which in turns helps increase speed and quickness.”
Campers (both boys and girls) are encouraged to work hard now so they may enjoy the fruits of their labor during the season and make plays on the football field, volleyball or basketball court. Once the season begins, it will likely be too late to make serious strengths and conditioning improvements.
Incoming sophomore Jaycie Pluenneke spends her days at volleyball clinics at the Cedar Park Center, but returns to Liberty Hill for the weight and conditioning camp. She is aiming for the sky.
“I want to get better, faster and stronger,” she said. “(The best part) is being with your friends and getting to see them during the summer. It’s a lot better being here with everybody. It helps get you where you want to be.”
For football players specifically, now is the time to do as much as they can so they don’t find themselves in the middle of a grueling season out of shape, downtrodden, and not strong enough to handle the physicality in the trenches of full-contact football.
Vance said it is of the upmost importance to work out in the offseason, especially in Class 3A.
“(Offseason workouts) lessen the risk of injury, which in our league is huge – most teams do not have an overwhelming abundance of equal talent and must keep your guys healthy,” he said. “(Weightlifting also) increases self-esteem.”
Coach Vance said the summer weightlifting program is important for team building and helps determine who will see more playing time during the fall.
“Working with your teammates develops a sense of team pride not the elitist attitude that some athletes have that work by themselves,” the championship-winning coach explained. “There are so many reasons to participate in offseason that I believe it is ludicrous not to workout. Those that sit on the couch, eat Cheetos and watch ‘Gilligan’s Island’ are soon left behind wondering how come they don’t play.”
Incoming seniors Zach Perez and Jordan Skinner have been attending the weights and conditioning camp since they were in junior high. This year they are using the time spent at camp to become better leaders in addition to improving strength and fitness.
“I’ve been coming here for the past three years and I’ve always improved so I’ve always looked forward to it,” said LHHS defensive lineman Perez. “(I enjoy) seeing all my teammates work hard and trying to get better. I’m trying to form a leadership role and become a leader for my teammates.”
For Skinner, a defensive end, becoming a better individual is a goal of his that he said will affect the team positively now and during the football season.
“My personal goal is to be better as a person for myself and my team as well,” Skinner said. “I want to step up and be able to help others do the right thing and go on from there. I’m trying to be the best leader I can for the team. Seeing everybody work hard and sweating along with you is a bond, a team and (will) be a big part of the season.”