LH football squad conditioning under health guidelines

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By Scott Akanewich

Liberty Hill’s football team is doing now what they always do in the spring – getting ready for the fall when the lights are back on and the ball is kicked off for a new season.

However, there are some distinct differences from what one usually sees.

Changes such as the players lining up six feet apart upon arriving for another workout to have their temperatures taken before being admitted to the field, as well as bottles of sanitizer dotting the natural grass surface at City Park are noticeable as they get to work away from their usual stomping grounds of Panther Stadium.

Yes, the Panthers are working out – but it’s certainly not business as usual.

Absent from the scene are the Liberty Hill coaches and in their place are parents of the 50 players who are being put through their paces on an overcast, but warm Central Texas morning in May.

On May 4, the Panthers began doing conditioning work three days a week, with the plan to continue until mid-June in the absence of school-sanctioned activities until the UIL once again clears them to engage in their usual spring football drills.

According to Shawn Lapuszynski – whose son Jed will be a senior for the Panthers in the fall – the idea for the workouts came about after he realized there was a need for a collective effort as opposed to the players attempting to stay in shape on their own.

“Jed was working out on his own in our garage at home,” said Lapuszynski. “We put him through one of the workouts and he got physically sick due to the fact he was out of shape and we figured if someone like him who always keeps himself in top condition was like this, the other guys would have problems, too.”

So, Lapuszynski, along with T.J. Garza, who owns and operates Speed Killz Period in Liberty Hill and several other Panther parents devised the plan to reunite the players while keeping social-distancing practices and sanitizing procedures firmly in place.

Lapuszynski said he felt it was not only important for the players to have the opportunity to train together from a physical standpoint, but perhaps more importantly to provide a psychological and emotional lifeline in the wake of the isolation of the pandemic.

“When a young man says he’s bored, it probably means he’s depressed,” he said. “So, we felt this was something we needed to do for them.”

Incoming senior quarterback Charlie Calabretta was all for the idea when he first heard about it and is even more enthused after having been back among his gridiron brothers-in-arms, he said.

“I was really excited because we had that opportunity taken away from us,” said Calabretta, who had been working out with father Craig at home. “It’s awesome to be out here because I’ve been stuck at home for two months.”

Strategically placed around the field are 12 stations, with each one offering a different physical challenge designed to push the players with a complete-body workout. Everything from dumbbells and an oversized tire for strength to plyometric boxes for agility and speed are employed – along with a couple of particularly challenging devices – including one known as a Demon Sled and another called Pegasus and Orthus, which are both heavily-weighted machines that must be pushed and lifted, respectively.

Players are required to stay in small groups of three or four and must maintain proper distance between one another while they work out in keeping with CDC guidelines, something that Jan Taylor, a local nurse practitioner and volunteer, helps monitor.

“We had to do some research, but with the amount of kids out here, we knew keeping everyone six feet apart was going to be a challenge,” said Taylor, who is certified in infection control. “In fact, when you’re breathing heavily, six feet isn’t enough, so we position the stations about 15 feet apart.”

Taylor said when she heard about the workouts she was both excited as a mother and concerned as a medical professional.

“I was excited about it, but I also thought ‘how are we going to do it?’” she said. “But, we’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the community and we’ve done the best we possibly can to follow all the guidelines – I’m just proud of everyone here.”

Lapuszynski credited Garza with offering his services and equipment free of charge for the players to use.

“If we had to pay for something like this, it would cost $16,000 to $17,000,” he said. “So, it’s great for him to have done this for us.”

Once again reiterating the psychological impact the workouts have had on the Panthers, Lapuszynski is pleased to have seen such positive results from the players.

“It’s really good for them emotionally to be out here,” he said. “I got an e-mail from a mom who said she hadn’t seen her son smile like that for two months. The attitudes of the players out here have been phenomenal – they really just want to be around each other.”

Calabretta said the workouts were helping he and his teammates capture something that wasn’t necessarily there last season.

“I think we’re really starting to grow closer together as a team,” he said. “We’re going to be ready.”

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