Panthers taking the right steps leading to opener

Jon Shannon (#22) runs off tackle after a handoff from Hernandez (#15) during a recent intrasquad scrimmage. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Jon Shannon (#22) runs off tackle after a handoff from Hernandez (#15) during a recent intrasquad scrimmage.
(Kathy Canady Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

The Liberty Hill Panthers Football team is inching closer and took another step forward in preparing for their season opener against LaGrange on August 29. The Panthers traveled to Stephenville August 15 for a preseason scrimmage to test some of the instructions and skills they had learned during practice.

Stephenville provided a tough challenge for the Panthers because of its rich tradition and history in football. Stephenville has won five state titles in football, the most recent one was in 2012.

Although it was just a scrimmage and the stats and score did not matter, Liberty Hill Head Coach Jerry Vance and his staff were able to get a better idea of how close they were to game speed.

“I was very excited about how our kids performed vs. Stephenville,” said Vance. “We have a good grasp on what we really need to work on. We have a pretty good idea (on how close we are to game speed). We still have a lot of work to do to get where we want to go, but we have some footing right now.”

It also gave Vance an opportunity to see new quarterback Nick Hernandez and the offense in action against a defense that was not wearing the same uniform as them.

“Nick was a little shaky at first, but really settled down and did a good job once he got his feet wet,” Vance said.

One of the areas Vance wants the players to work on is becoming more vocal on the field and showing vocal leadership.

“We are not very vocal,” Vance said. “This team seems to be more action than talk.”

The Panthers secondary is a key position group that coaches and fans will be watching early this season as they look to grow and mature with game experience. After losing two all-district starters to graduation in the secondary, Coach Vance said that he saw progress and growth against Stephenville.

“The secondary was really challenged, but I thought all in all they took some giant steps to maturity,” Vance said.

Unfortunately in the scrimmage against Stephenville, the Panthers came away a little banged up and suffered some key injuries. Now the Panthers will look to get healed before the season opener and give some of the backup players more playing time in order to add depth and rest the injured starters.

“One of the most important things is to come out healthy,” Vance said. “We were banged up coming out of Stephenville and we really need to get well. We have some players we are asking a lot of and it will be fun to see them rise to the occasion.”

The Panthers’ next test will be on Friday, August 22, when they host Alvarado at Panther Stadium in their second and final scrimmage of the preseason. The varsity scrimmage will start around 6 p.m., while the freshman and junior varsity scrimmage will start at 5 p.m.

Last season, Alvarado finished with a 6-5 record and fell to Burnet in the bi-district round of the playoffs. Their best season came in 2011 when they went 14-1 and lost in the State Finals to Tyler Chapel Hill.

Coach Vance says the players continue to work hard in practice in order to get up to “Friday night” game speed, but adjusting to the new format of practice for some of the players has been difficult.

“It takes some time to see how the team reacts to our new format,” Vance said. “Time will tell how it goes.”