LHJH players working hard for future of Panther football
By LANCE CATCHINGS
Most days of the week, you can drive by Panther Stadium and see the Liberty Hill High School football team hard at work. Just down the road, you will find more Panthers working hard on the football field, albeit a little smaller in stature. Many of the Panthers you see on Friday nights got their start at the junior high level where those seventh and eighth graders are working just as hard for Panther football. Junior High Boys’ Coordinator and eighth-grade football coach John Mason said his kids are working hard at learning the basics.
“We run the same thing the high school does, just at a more basic level,” Mason said. “We want to make sure that the kids know exactly what to do. There are certain plays we run at all levels. The high school gets more in-depth with our offense, but we teach them the basic things they need to know as they prepare for high school.”
Mason and his staff take the introduction of tackle football to the junior high athletes very seriously. Often, this is when many kids first get the experience of playing football. They also get players that have played before, so it is a mixture of teaching and coaching that has been most effective for him.
“We are a feeder system to our high school,” Mason said. “From day one, we assume that the kids we get coming in do not know anything. One of our main focuses is teaching blocking and tackling drills. We do get fortunate and have some kids that come up through our youth football program and have an idea of what to do. When we are teaching, we can use those kids to help show the others the basic skills. We often have a good mixture of kids that have played before and some that haven’t. We had some seventh graders this year that have never played before that are starting on our A team. Just because a kid has not played before does not mean they will not get to play in our program. We take each practice day to day, and we can build to a point where we can be successful from week to week.”
Liberty Hill has been a successful high school football program for many years, due in large part to the fact that kids at the lower levels run a similar system from their introduction into the program all the way through their senior year. This allows the student-athlete to be in a system for almost six years by the time they become a senior. Successful junior high programs are often a sign of things to come at the high school level. Mason is entering his sixth year coaching at the junior high and said that makes this senior class special for him.
“The senior class at LHHS this year was my first seventh-grade class,” he said. “To see them come up through six years has been nice. I got to spend some time with some of them on the sideline a few weeks ago, and they brought back memories of things I had forgotten. It’s cool to see the kids come up through our program and see them graduate this year. We can bring stories back from them and tell our young kids, ‘You never know. You might be a B-team kid in seventh grade and be a starting fullback by the time you’re a senior.’”
As Liberty Hill High School continues to grow, it is only a matter of time before they are moved up to Conference 5A, but the junior high already competes against those schools.
“We play up a division,” Mason said. “We play schools out of Georgetown and Hutto, and we are hanging right with them. The kids come in at the junior high level and they learn how to work. With the kids we get and their upbringing, they are raised to work. I feel like our kids work the hardest out of anybody we play. I will never question how hard our kids work, and you can see it when we are fighting on the field for four quarters. Work ethic is never a question for our kids. They show up everyday to work hard, and they are seeing those results.”
Mason believes that coaching goes farther than the field. He knows that football can help teach life lessons.
“This is my 11th year coaching, and I have learned that the things you say to kids, they will remember,” he said. “I approach every day as if it may be my last day coaching. When you do that and take everything you say seriously, it becomes more teaching. We are teaching them to have a love for the game and work hard. You teach them skills that will help them past high school where they can become young men that can provide for our society. When you approach it that way, football is just a tool that allows them to become men, and the coaching part is easy.”
Mason made it clear that the junior high program would not be as successful as it’s been without the support of the parents and community. Mason and his staff are appreciative of all the support they’ve received.
“The biggest thing for us is that we appreciate the support of the parents and the buy-in of the kids,” he said. “We really appreciate the support of the community, supporting our program, which is a stepping stone for when the kids get to the varsity level. We love the tie-in with the junior high and the high school. The number of kids we have in our program has made us really successful.”
The Liberty Hill junior high football players had a bye week this past Tuesday, but will be back in action Tuesday, Oct. 9.