PANTHER PROFILE: Dudgeon questing for state title in final season

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Senior Jonathon Dudgeon says he will value the experiences with his teammates when he looks back on his years as a Panther defensive end. On Senior Night earlier this month, he was recognized along with his parents. (Alex Rubio Photo)

Senior Jonathon Dudgeon says he will value the experiences with his teammates when he looks back on his years as a Panther defensive end. On Senior Night earlier this month, he was recognized along with his parents. (Alex Rubio Photo)

By Mike Schoeffel

A decade ago, a young Jonathon Dudgeon was faced with a decision.

He had signed up for football a little too late, thus he could either wait until the following season to begin his playing career or move up an age bracket and play right away.

Excited to begin playing what he called a “great sport,” he chose the latter option.

“I chose to challenge myself,” he said. “Ever since then, I have continued to learn and become a player of the game.”

Over the last 10 years, Dudgeon has progressed from a young football enthusiast anxious to get his playing career underway into an irreplaceable member of the Liberty Hill High School varsity football team. A senior defensive end set to graduate in the top 10 percent of his class, Dudgeon has amassed 53 tackles, 37 solo tackles, two fumble recoveries, and a sack to help lead the Panthers to the regional round of the UIL 4A postseason.

Dudgeon and his teammates are one win away from advancing to the state tournament. To get there, they’ll have to defeat China Spring (11-1) this Saturday, a district foe that beat the Panthers 42-10 on Oct. 28. It won’t be an easy task, Dudgeon said, but with a few adjustments he’s confident the Panthers will be able to pull off a significant upset.

“I feel like our line needs to get better pressure on the quarterback to help our secondary not be as pressured against their tall receivers,” he said. “Overall, just increasing our physicality on their run game and creating as many turnovers as possible to help our offense is crucial to upsetting them.”

The Panthers had to stage a major comeback last week to ensure they’d have an opportunity to exact revenge on China Spring. Liberty Hill overcame a 10-point deficit to defeat a strong Beeville Jones (9-3) team that won its first round game against Zapata by a 62-13 final. The key to victory, Dudgeon said, was “believing in ourselves.”

“The countless hours spent practicing, lifting, studying the game of football weren’t for nothing,” he said. “We were a team to be reckoned with, and once it clicked that the only way for us to be taken seriously was to play according to that standard.”

By the time the team had loaded back onto the bus from Seguin, destined for Liberty Hill, Dudgeon said “we had found our potential, seized it, and couldn’t be more ready to take on China Spring once again next week.”

If the Panthers can get past China Spring, they’ll be one step closer to their over-arching goal of winning the program’s first state championship since 2007. For Dudgeon, who will not play football when he enrolls at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School next fall, each week from here on out may be the last time he ever dons a set of shoulder pads. As he put it, “it’s most likely my last chance to end this passion I have for football on a good note.

“To me, earning a state title in my final season would be the ultimate way to end my high school career,” he said. “I already value my teammates as brothers and to achieve the goal that lies at the heart of Liberty Hill’s pride and joy would be an incredible accomplishment.”

Dudgeon, like so many high school athletes, has a strong appreciation for the strong bonds formed with fellow teammates. The pivotal games and do-or-die moments have been important in shaping his career, sure, but it’s the sense of human connectivity that Dudgeon believes he’ll appreciate the most when he reflects on his time with the Liberty Hill football program during the coming months and years.

“I’ll recall that big sack against Burnet my junior year, or games against teams like Brownwood or Jones my senior year,” he said. “But above them all are the experiences you have with your teammates. When we all were suffering through off-season workouts, or celebrating a victory, or even celebrating for no apparent reason and simply enjoying these four special years of our lives.”

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