By KEITH SPARKS
Leading up to Liberty Hill’s first home scrimmage against an opponent, there are some outside factors that Head Coach Jeff Walker expects to impact the Panthers’ performance, all of which have to do with the first week of school.
“The first week of school is always hard on everybody,” he said. “It’s hard on coaches…everybody. We’re running up and teaching and running back and doing all that stuff, so I’m hoping we can get it out. I’ve never had a lot of good practices that first week of school, because kids are thinking about the girls and studies and everything else going on, and going a million different directions. Sometimes, we’re not as focused, but our kids are on the ball, so I think we’ll have as good of practices as I’ve had the first week of school, because I think they know where we’re at and where we need to get. The kids we’ve got right here are willing to do it.”
With Friday being the Panthers’ first home scrimmage since school has started, Walker expects the stands to be a little bit more full and the energy level to be high.
“I hope we can show the home crowd that it’s worth the price of admission to come watch us,” he said.
Although the Panthers have a lot to work on from an assignment standpoint, Walker’s hope is that his team simply shows the effort that he wants to see. If they can put forth the effort, the rest will work itself out.
“I’m just looking for effort,” Walker said. “I can take a little guy and make him this or that. I want running backs who don’t get tackled. I want linemen to get on their blocks and get on a mount. I want guys flying to the football. When we’re making a tackle, I want 10 other guys doing everything they can to get to the ball. I just want to see more effort…and the speed. We go back to speed and being physical. Effort, speed, and physical are kind of my battle cries, I guess. If we can go fast and we can be physical, we have a chance to be good.”
Over the first few weeks of practice and scrimmaging, Walker has had nothing but positive things to say about his team’s effort. His hope for Friday’s scrimmage against Taylor is that, while continuing to put forth the effort they’ve shown thus far, they can start to play instinctively without having to think too much.
“The effort’s been pretty good, it’s just that we’re thinking too much,” he said. “I’d like to get away from the thinking and be able to just go play. Hopefully, after a few more days of practice, it’ll be sinking in better and we’ll be able to fly a little faster on Friday.”
According to Walker’s description of the Ducks, they play a style of football that has often given the Panthers problems. Their speed and size on the offensive end can make Friday’s scrimmage a nightmare for the Panthers if they don’t take the right angles defensively and play the way they’ve been coached to play.
“They spread it all out and throw everywhere, and they’ve got really, really, really fast receivers,” Walker said of the Ducks. “They have a 6’3”, 6’4” kid they throw it up to, and they give us matchup problems, because they do have a lot of speed that we don’t have. We’ve got to take great angles on defense, and offensively, we’ve just got to do what we do. I worry about their speed because they do have four or five kids where, if they get a crease, they’re gone and we’re not going to catch them. We’ve got to play assignment football and do what we’re coached to do.”
Walker made it clear that the Panthers’ focus this week isn’t on Friday’s scrimmage, but instead on their first regular season game against La Grange the following Friday. La Grange starts school a week later than the Panthers, which could be either an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how both teams handle it.
“We’re not trying to get ready for Taylor,” Walker said. “We’re trying to get ready for La Grange, so we won’t spend much time on Taylor. We’re just focusing on us getting better right now so when we get off the bus in La Grange, we’ll be able to do something. La Grange doesn’t start school until next week, so they get another whole week of two-a-days while we’re already starting school. It could be a benefit, because we could be used to the routine next week and they’re struggling, so we’ll see how that shakes out.”
The format of Friday night’s scrimmage against the Ducks should be similar to that of the Alvarado scrimmage. It will likely start with some controlled competition that allows each team to run 10 to 15 plays in a row with each of their groups before they move on to a game-like half of football with a live clock.
This close to the start of the regular season, live football is the best way to prepare for Friday nights. With that in mind, Walker anticipates that the starters will get most of the playing time during the live portion of the scrimmage.
“We’re sticking with our ones, because I’m trying to get them in shape,” he said. “If my twos are standing in the whole time, I’m not going to feel like we’re getting in shape. We’ve got to be ready to play four quarters, and it’s hard. It’s hard to condition for four-quarter games the way we play. They’re huffing and puffing and they’re going to have to fight through that. We had a lot of them that were dead-dog tired and I said, ‘Don’t take them out,’ because that’s the only way we’re going to play four quarters is if we stick them in there. It wasn’t that we were trying to score, because I don’t care about scoring in scrimmages. I just want us to get better. I know if we pull them, they won’t get the conditioning they need.”
The Panthers’ scrimmage against the Ducks, their final scrimmage of the season, will take place this Friday, August 25, at Panther Stadium at 6 p.m.