Former receiver Joiner leading way on Panther defense

Junior cornerback Dylan Joiner leads the Panthers with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries so far this season. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Junior cornerback Dylan Joiner leads the Panthers with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries so far this season. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Lauren Jette

When junior cornerback Dylan Joiner moved to Liberty Hill from Leander before his sophomore year, he thought he was going to contribute to the Panthers as a wide receiver.

After seeing the number of running backs and lack of receivers on the team, Joiner realized he was going to have to find a different role.

“It was definitely different because I came here expecting to play receiver on offense, but they had three running backs and no receivers,” Joiner said.

“So it was definitely different, but I’m happy where I’m at though.”

Although Joiner isn’t a receiver anymore, he’s still catching footballs—thrown by Liberty Hill’s opponents. Joiner leads the Panthers with five interceptions and two fumble recoveries so far this season. Two of those interceptions came against Fredericksburg on Oct. 30.

“Honestly, when the ball is in the air, it’s like a different zone for me,” Joiner said.

“For the longest time, I always just practiced on catching, so I guess it kind of paid off. After a while, it gets you better at catching during a game, so I’m able to bring down balls that are a lot harder to catch.”

Joiner’s success at cornerback isn’t surprising to head coach Jerry Vance, due to his previous experience as a receiver.

“I think all the training he got about how to run routes, now we turn it around and he knows what they’re anticipating so he can counter that by baiting them into making that cut and be there in front of them,” Vance said.

“I think that experience translates well into playing corner…He’s the first guy in a long time we’ve had five interceptions from. He’s done well. I think the maturity level is coming around where it needs to be and the leader aspect will be essential next year,” Vance said.

Expectations for the Panther defense are high, and players don’t back down on the field.

“Sprint to the ball, coaches stress that all the time, sprint to the ball,” Joiner said. “Eleven hats to the ball every time, they don’t want us slacking off and not doing what we’re supposed to. They want us sprinting, going 100 percent and pretty much busting our (butts) every chance we get.”

After a 38-28 loss at Brownwood in the third game of the season, the defense has since stepped up and only allowed 100 points since Sept. 11, including only 59 points during district games and a shutout over Bandera in the district finale.

“Brownwood definitely was a bad game for me,” Joiner said.

“(It’s) my first year on varsity, so the first couple of games weren’t too hot for me, but after that, our defense got in sync together and now we’re just good.”

Joiner credits the performance of the defense to working together and not as individuals.

“We stay as a team, we don’t look at one player (as) being the best player,” he said. “We all stick as a team and play defense.”

Part of the challenge for the defense is learning each opponent’s offensive scheme every week.

“Most of it’s pretty easy, because most teams are passing teams, we’ve only had one team that has run the ball like us and that’s Canyon Lake,” Joiner said.

“Most of the things are the same routes, just better receivers or maybe worse receivers. You just gotta cope with what the team is.”

Liberty Hill saw its biggest challenge this season in last week’s bi-district win over rival Burnet, where the Bulldogs threw the ball more than 50 times.

“They played pretty hard in that game against us, but we showed them that Liberty Hill’s the better team by far,” Joiner said.

Joiner also sees time on the kick return team and has made some good runs, including a 48-yard return against the Bulldogs last week to start a Panther offensive drive at Burnet’s 38-yard line late in the third quarter.

“Honestly, I really enjoy corner because you’re out there a lot more,” Joiner said. “Kick return, it’s just a few times a game, but corner, you’re out there every time. But kick return is definitely fun. I just like catching the ball and running. It’s pretty simple. We have really good blockers, too, so it makes it easier for me to run straight.”

Now that the Panthers are in the playoffs, Joiner and the rest of the Panther defense know they have to work harder in each game if they want to obtain their goal of bringing home Liberty Hill’s third state championship.

“I’m hoping for a state championship, but for that we’d have to be the best team, we can’t not go hard in practice, we have to go 100 percent every time,” Joiner said.

“I think if we do that, then we’ll have a pretty good run this year.”