Liberty Hill’s football players have a script for everything
By Scott Akanewich
When Liberty Hill football players arrive at school on game days, they know exactly what to expect.
“It’s all about routines,” said Panthers’ Head Coach Jeff Walker. “As a coaching staff, we’ve been doing the same thing for 20 years.”
Having a set way of doing things is critical to success. In that familiarity with what’s going to happen creates a comfort level in which players can not only be productive, but excel.
In fact, when classes begin and the schedule is much tighter, everything is simplified that much more, said Walker.
“Once school gets here, it’s easier because we’re under a time limit,” he said. “But, the kids know our routines and like it when they know what to expect.”
At this time of year, it’s also a task unto itself to keep players on the straight and narrow when typical teenage life can be unpredictable.
“It’s hard to keep kids focused,” Walker said. “They have girlfriends, homework and other things which take time and energy, but that’s why we keep a routine, so they know we’re going to be steady.”
Players are expected to be on the practice field at 4:15 p.m. each afternoon with special teams on the field practicing kickoffs, followed by 55 minutes of offense and 55 minutes of defense.
The Panthers’ Slot-T offense requires much discipline to successfully execute, which means a regimented practice routine plays right into the hands of Walker and his entire coaching staff as they put their players through the paces on a daily basis.
“Timing is very important to what we do here,” Walker said. “We need to get them into shape, but we know they have to work themselves into shape, so we get their heart rate up and their blood pumping. Our goal is to wear the other team down during games, so if we see opposing players with hands on their knees between plays, we know we have a good thing going.”
On Saturday, the Panthers traveled to Brownwood for their first live scrimmage of the season and Walker came away knowing there is much work to be done before the regular season opener at Glenn on Aug. 30.
“We have a long way to go,” he said. “But, I think a lot of it is correctable, although we need better effort.”
Getting players on a young team to make adjustments isn’t always easy, said Walker.
“Sometimes it’s tough to correct kids when they think they’re doing something right,” he said. “With inexperience, it’s difficult to make corrections. I wish we could get a few more scrimmages, but we have coachable kids.”
As far as scrimmages go, Walker is concerned about only one thing, he said.
“We’re just looking at personnel,” said Walker. “We don’t look at the score. We script plays and get as many eyes on kids as we can so when we watch film, we can see if we’re getting better.”
So, how does he know if one of his players isn’t getting with the program?
“We’ll have a kid who sticks out like a sore thumb on film,” said Walker. “Whether it’s not being near the ball or whatever.”
Another feature of scrimmages is the ability to line up against someone other than your own teammates.
“It’s a good thing when we get to go against somebody else at full-speed,” he said.
In the aftermath of a scrimmage, there are sure signs one way or the other.
“We want to see steps we’re headed in the right direction,” said Walker. “If we’re still yelling about the same things, that’s not good. What we want to do is cut down on our mistakes and play cleaner.”
One thing that definitely wasn’t pleasant for the Panthers was the 222-mile round trip to Brownwood, said Walker.
Especially the bus ride back.
“You have a bunch of sweaty players and coaches on a bus with broken air conditioning,” he said. “It was pretty miserable.”
It will be much better this Friday when the Panthers host Marble Falls at Panther Stadium for their last scrimmage of the fall at 6:30 p.m.
“It’ll certainly be nice not to have to spend four hours on the road and be able to step right out of our locker room onto our field,” Walker said. “But, other than that, it doesn’t mean too much. We’ll use it as another opportunity to teach our players.”
As the opener draws nearer, Walker is still waiting for the cream to rise to the top, he said.
“We need some guys to step up and play as good as we know they can,” Walker said. “Maybe it’s because we haven’t had enough time yet in pads or enough live contact, but we need some of our playmakers to start making plays.”
According to Walker, of the 22 starting positions on the field, about three-quarters of them have been settled.
“I tell the players we take the best Liberty Hill has to offer,” said Walker. “We don’t get to go out and recruit, so we have to get them to buy into what we’re selling.”
As a result, Walker and the Panthers have adopted a single-word slogan this season.
“Together,” he said. “On both sides of the ball, it’s important everyone does their job and not worry about what other people are doing. We have to be a well-oiled machine and it definitely takes all 11 players on the field.”
Walker said he and his coaches can only do so much to make sure everyone strives to do the right thing and the players themselves need to get after each other when the situation calls for it because the difference between the two can make all the difference in the world.
“When coaches coach players, you can be a good team,” he said. “When players coach players, you can be a great team.”