Harrison named District MVP, Walker named Coach of the Year
By Keith Sparks
After a dominant, undefeated district season, the Panther football team was rewarded with an astounding 17 all-district awards, 18 if you include Head Coach Jeff Walker.
Unsurprisingly, Liberty Hill running back Kyle Harrison was voted the District MVP, and the vote was unanimous, according to Walker.
“When you throw out what we did and put up how many points we put up and he’s the main ball carrier, it was a no-brainer and it was unanimous,” Walker said. “He’s quick, he’s pretty fast, he’s hard to tackle in space, and I think he doesn’t get enough credit for how tough he is,” Walker said. “He’s a tough kid. He took a lot of shots. You carry the ball as many times as he did and rush for 2,700 yards as a junior and 2,875 as a senior, that’s a lot of pounding on a frame that’s not real big. I think that goes unnoticed how tough he is. He didn’t miss a game for any reason. The only time he ever came out was if he was exhausted, and that was very seldom.”
Walker was voted the district’s Coach of the Year, which is also unsurprising considering their undefeated district record and dominant performance on both sides of the ball. Walker, however, won’t take any of the credit.
“I had the best team,” Walker said. “That’s the bottom line is I had the best team. In our district, it wasn’t even close. We didn’t really have a close game. That usually doesn’t mean they have the best coach. It means they have the best team. When you have the best young men, you usually get Coach of the Year. I think that’s more an award for the kids than it is for me.”
Senior defensive end Kory Schmidt took home Defensive MVP honors, which Walker said is a testament to his ability to run to the ball on just about every play, as well as the overall performance of the defensive line.
“I think our defensive line was really good this year and people took notice,” Walker said. “When you run a three-man front, those guys have to be pretty good up there, and they were. I think a little bit with Schmidt getting it is that 22 was by the ball a lot. He ran real well. He runs to the ball real well. He’s a 6’4”, 225-pound athlete.”
Senior nose guard Trey Riley was given the Newcomer of the Year award in his first year starting for the varsity defense. Walker said his emergence was unexpected, mostly because the coaching staff didn’t even know which position he’d play.
“He’s one that we didn’t know, really, where he would fit in for us, but we knew we needed to play him,” Walker said. “He’s just one of those kids that works extremely hard, does everything you ask him to do. He’s a real quiet young man, doesn’t like to talk, and he’s one of those kids that doesn’t like to be told how good he is and how well he’s doing. He just doesn’t like the publicity. Without him, I don’t know how good we would have been defensively. He was a big, big addition to our defense coming in and doing what he did.”
Additional First-Team All-District selections were tight end Cole McWilliams, linemen Lakota Lawrence, Justin Montgomery, Hadley Weems, and Josh Lapuszynski, linebackers Austin Knox and Mason Ogle, defensive end Walker Baty, defensive back Wyatt Cheney, defensive utility Cory Jellison, and kickers Matthew Shipley and Mason Shipley.
Second-Team All-District selections were offensive utility Connor Kuykendall and defensive backs Brady Brewer and Trenton Seward.
For a defense that had some question marks heading into the season, seven all-district selections isn’t a bad reward. Although he had faith in his defense, Walker said he wouldn’t have guessed early on that they would mesh the way they did.
“Going in, I wouldn’t have guessed that they would’ve all meshed the way they did,” Walker said. “We made some adjustments and moved some people around, and it just all fell into place. Some young men really stepped up and did what we thought they were capable of doing all along.”
Once the season got started, however, Walker was confident that he had arguably the best defense in the district.
“After we got started, I did,” Walker said. “It helps when you move your quarterback, which is the leader of the whole team, to linebacker and some of that stuff, but we had some players on that side. That’s how you get to where we got. You can’t have just a one-sided football team. You have to have players on both sides. On both sides of the football, we had some kids that played really, really well.”
The only non-Liberty Hill football player to take home an individual award (not including all-district first- or second-team selections) was Lampasas quarterback Ace Whitehead, who earned Offensive MVP.