PANTHER PROFILE: Harrison a key running back for Panthers

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Kyle Harrison is a sophomore running back for the Panthers playing his first varsity season. In the scrimmage against Taylor two weeks ago, Harrison made this catch as Coach Jerry Vance looks on. (Alex Rubio File Photo)

Kyle Harrison is a sophomore running back for the Panthers playing his first varsity season. In the scrimmage against Taylor two weeks ago, Harrison made this catch as Coach Jerry Vance looks on. (Alex Rubio File Photo)

By KEITH SPARKS

Last Friday night, sophomore running back Kyle Harrison was ready to play in his first varsity game as a starter. Mother Nature had other plans.

“Our offense only had one play,” Harrison said. “We were all so ready to go out there the first time, and we didn’t play as good as we wanted to at the beginning. We knew if we got a chance to go back out there that we’d play a lot better than we did.”

Although he did get the opportunity to travel with the varsity team during the playoffs as a freshman, he wasn’t given many opportunities. During those three games, Harrison was forced to sit behind some older running backs with a lot more experience. He did score a touchdown in those playoffs, though, which is something most freshmen don’t get to say.

“Everything is just faster,” Harrison said about the difference between varsity and freshman football. “Everybody’s bigger and stronger. You’ve got to know what you’re doing.”

For Harrison, those first few games on varsity last year were a dream come true. Though a bit nerve-racking, it was something he’d been waiting for since elementary school, having watched the varsity team play on Friday nights for as long as he can remember.

“It actually motivated me a little more,” he said. “I was a kid, watching them, and knowing that I’m the one they’re watching on the field was awesome. It motivated me.”

In order to compete with the bigger, stronger varsity players, Harrison treated his offseason training like a job, attending every single day of Head Coach Jerry Vance’s summer conditioning program, which included weight lifting and agility training.

Though he’s only a sophomore, Harrison is planning on playing football in college, listing Texas A&M, Texas, Houston, and UTSA as his preferred schools.

“That’s what I’m gunnin’ for,” Harrison said. “I’d like to go to UTSA, the Roadrunners. That’d be cool. I always think about Texas and A&M, but that’s a big shot, and I like Houston. Those are my favorites.”

This season, Harrison joins three other Panther running backs in Justin Burkett, Reid Sanders and Brandon Barfield, each of them bringing something different to the table. According to Harrison, this “running-back-by-committee” system that Coach Vance has employed gives the offense a unique advantage, allowing them to spread the field and open up opportunities for teammates. Harrison noted that having quicker backs as threats on the outside keeps the defense spread out, giving fullbacks like Burkett more opportunities up the middle.

“Having all of us back there really spreads the field,” Harrison said, “and having me and Barfield running to the outside gives us an advantage, because Burkett’s a bulldozer, and if we spread the field it really gets the defense confused.”

With an offense as reliant on the run as Liberty Hill’s, the offensive line is key. The performance of the offensive line is tough for the casual football fan to gauge, but Harrison didn’t hesitate to give his offensive line all the credit when given the opportunity.

“That’s the most important thing we have, is our line,” Harrison said. “They’re our best friends on the team. They give us the holes to run through. We need them to be fast, strong and smart. They’re our best friends.”

The Panthers were obviously disappointed in Friday night’s cancellation, and this Friday’s game against La Vernia may end with the same result as the weather forecast looks almost identical to last week’s. Harrison hopes his second start for the varsity team will be a game he’ll get to finish.

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