By TAYLOR GRAFFT
Head coach Jerry Vance is entering his 13th year with the Liberty Hill Panthers, but this season he will be roaming a new sideline with the opening of a brand new football stadium.
The Panthers got a chance to test out the new field and facilities at the first day of practice Monday.
Coach Vance was excited about the new stadium and pleased with how the first day of practice went.
“(The stadium) is spread out a little more than what we’ve been used to,” said coach Vance. “I was a little concerned about how moving from one field to another would work. But the kids came in, in real good shape and we moved right along. We didn’t have to waste a lot of time and we didn’t have any lost kids, which was good. I thought we got a lot done today.”
When the first week of practices start, it is always tough to find a balance between coaching the fundamentals and working on conditioning with the team. But Coach Vance seems to have found a good structured approach to work on both aspects.
“It’s been our theory for a long time that we’re going to get conditioned in practice,” Coach Vance said. “We’re going to try to have a very up-tempo and quick practice so that our kids are moving as close to game speed as possible. Therefore we don’t run sprints. We don’t run quarters or any thing like that. We try and get them in shape during practice. And it’s worked out well for us.”
The first week of practice is always exciting for players who maybe haven’t gotten a chance to prove themselves on the field and are fighting for their place on the depth chart.
“In high school football, every year there are slots you have to fill,” Coach Vance said. “We’re looking for those kids that are going to step up and play and contribute. We’re looking for kids to be an improvement over what we had last year or what they were last year.”
With a veteran stable of running backs returning this year, Coach Vance wants to stick to running the ball and having his offensive line build team camaraderie in practice. With three scrimmages coming up in early and mid-August, he hopes to have a good idea of where the team is at both physically and structurally by the season opener on August 30.
Despite the unfamiliarity of a new stadium and the smoldering Texas heat, it was still business as usual for the Panthers routines. Coach Vance said neither was a concern for his coaching staff and players, and they will take plenty of water breaks throughout the three weeks of practice to condition their team in time for the season.
“We emphasize with our kids that we want to play at a high level all the time,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference whether we’re at the old Panther Stadium or the new Panther Stadium. Whether we’re playing at Baylor or Alamo Dome. We want to play at that high level all the time. We can’t let the venue dictate your emotion or giddiness. You have to go out there and play the game.”