After mid-season vow, JV finishes as co-district champs

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The Junior Varsity Panthers ended the season as co-district champions. The JV team, shown above in this beginning of the season team photo, will advance to varsity in the coming years. (1st Photo Texas Photo)

The Junior Varsity Panthers ended the season as co-district champions. The JV team, shown above in this beginning of the season team photo, will advance to varsity in the coming years. (1st Photo Texas Photo)

By Mike Schoeffel

Junior varsity teams don’t get much love. That’s just the nature of the high school football beast.

The varsity team grabs headlines and adulation, while JV players go about their business without much recognition, biding their time until the day arrives to shine in front of pulsing crowds on Friday nights.

The Liberty Hill JV football team enjoyed another successful season in 2015, albeit without much fanfare, finishing 7-3 overall and 4-1 in the district.

Head coach Anthony Escobar led the Panthers to a share of the district title with rival Canyon Lake. According to the coach, the team overcame numerous injuries, finishing with seven wins in nine games after falling to La Grange in the season opener.

“We got better as the season picked up,” said Escobar. “Our players fought to get better each week, never quitting when games got close.”

The turning point came after a 12-8 loss to Canyon Lake in the district opener. After the game, Escobar said the players “made a promise to win out the rest of the season.”

That’s exactly what they did.

“That’s when our players really started to gel,” recalled the coach.

The players upheld their promise, but the road to a co-district title wasn’t without its fair share of roadblocks. Injuries forced Escobar “to move kids around to fill holes” left by the ailing players. Escobar praised his players for the way they embraced new (sometimes less comfortable) roles for the betterment of the team.

“The kids stepped up without missing a beat,” confirmed the coach.

The junior varsity program at Liberty Hill, like at most schools, has long been a valuable feeder program for the varsity team. It just so happens that the Panthers’ varsity squad is perennially one of the strongest programs in central Texas.

Since 2005, head coach Jerry Vance has led Liberty Hill to six 10-plus win seasons, two state championships, and an overall record of 109-29. This year, the varsity team is 9-2 and poised to make another deep run into the postseason. They rolled Burnet, 47-28, in the opening round and travel to Canyon Lake to face Gonzales (5-6) this Friday.

Few would disagree that such high notes were made possible by a strong “farm team” in place to groom and prepare young athletes to become future varsity stars.

According to Escobar, there were several such potential varsity game-changers on this year’s JV squad. Most of the players who fit that bill on offense spent time in the backfield, an unsurprising phenomenon considering Liberty Hill’s emphasis on the running game.

Fullbacks Jerome Roble, Ethan Thom, and Daylan Cunningham, halfback Hunter Oncken, tailback Lane Mayeux, and quarterback Christopher Neal were all “key players,” according to Escobar. The coach named Paul Madison and Dalton Phifer as leaders of the offensive line.

Defensively, Escobar said linebacker Grant Supak was the “heart of the defense” who could “make plays all over the field.” He anchored the linebacking corps alongside Matthew Hilbrich. In the secondary, corner Jack Lepley and free safety Brandon McKissick were standouts, while defensive tackle William Armstrong and defensive end Matthew Hilbrich held down the defensive line.

With that group of promising underclassmen looking to make the leap to the varsity level within the next two years, Escobar’s prognosis for the Panthers’ varsity team is a positive one.

“The future,” he said. “Is bright for Liberty Hill football.”

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