By KEITH SPARKS
For the past three weeks, Liberty Hill’s football team has been practicing with the La Grange Leopards in mind. As it turns out, Hurricane Harvey had other plans.
At 10:15 am on Monday, August 28, Panthers’ Head Coach Jeff Walker received a text from La Grange Head Coach Matt Kates with the news that they’d have to cancel Friday’s game in La Grange due to flooding.
“We have to cancel. No school here until Thursday. Now the flood is threatening the schools. Disappointing that we don’t get to play, but it puts things in perspective. Best of luck to you guys,” Kates’ text read.
Walker and Kates had communicated over the weekend in anticipation of a cancellation, so Walker and the Panthers weren’t completely blindsided.
According to the National Weather Service, the Colorado River in La Grange will likely crest around 54.5 feet, which is the highest it’s been since 1913. Near Highway 71 on the west side of La Grange, water levels have reached the rooftops of homes and businesses.
Although the health and safety of those affected by Hurricane Harvey is the number one concern, Walker and the Panthers can’t help but be disappointed by the cancellation of their first game of the season.
“We figured they were going to cancel, but I was still holding out hope,” Walker said. “We’d been scouting and working them since day one. As coaches, we’re planners. When you work toward something for three weeks, and you’ve scouted them real well, and you’re ready to go and they drop out, now you’re looking for somebody you don’t know anything about. It’s just tough. It’s not what we want, but we’ll make do.”
With only a few days’ notice, Walker had to scramble to find another team to play on Friday, September 1. As of Monday, August 28, Walker and his staff were in the process of reaching out to coaches to try and schedule an impromptu matchup with a team whose scheduled opponent also had to cancel due to flooding in southeast Texas. Teams Walker has reached out to include Llano, Marble Falls, and Hondo.
“Right now, we’re just looking and throwing out feelers,” Walker said. “We’ve talked to three or four that are waiting on stuff, like Llano, Marble Falls, and some of those kind of people that are still up in the air with whether they’re going to play or not. Llano plays Smithville, which is right up there with La Grange. They say Smithville has still said they’re playing, but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Marble Falls is playing Cedar Creek in Bastrop, and I don’t know if Bastrop’s gotten it bad, but there are some kids that may not be able to get to school with the river and stuff there. We’ve left a message in Hondo, because they’re playing somebody where it’s flooded, so we’re just getting the word out.”
As of Tuesday, August 29, Walker said it was unlikely that the Panthers would have a game. With no knowledge of who they’ll play, or if they’ll even have a game, the Panthers are forced to practice in the dark, figuratively speaking. Typically, the week’s practices are focused on strategizing against what their upcoming opponent runs. Instead, they’ll simply have to focus on themselves.
“It’s tough to practice on Monday and Tuesday with things up in the air, so we’re telling the kids we’re going to play,” Walker said. “We’ve got to prepare for something, but what do you block? What do you defend? So we’re going back to pretty much the basic stuff and just trying to get better. We tell them all the time we’re not as worried about who we’re playing, but we’re worried about ourselves. We’re going to work on getting better today at what we do.”
An off-week typically has some advantages for a football team, but those advantages are all but nullified when the off-week comes before you’ve played a single game. While a week off would allow some of the Panthers to heal from their preseason injuries, Walker is concerned about their conditioning heading into week two.
“When a team’s playing their second game and you’re playing your first game, it will show,” he said. “It’s just the whole routine of the game and all the other things that go along with it. Sometimes, though, an open week is not bad for you. We are a little beat up right now, and you give guys time to heal and get some fresher legs and all that, but then you start worrying about conditioning, because you didn’t play a game. You’re not going to condition like you can in a game, and that’s the biggest part is the conditioning you lose from not playing in a game.”
Next Friday, Sept. 8, the Panthers will face La Vernia in their first home game of the season at 7:30 pm at Panther Stadium.