Panthers’ head football coach leaves lasting legacy

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By Scott Akanewich

When Jerry Vance decided to retire from his position as Liberty Hill’s athletic director and head football coach four years ago, then Liberty Hill ISD Superintendent Dr. Rob Hart knew precisely the man he wanted as Vance’s successor.

“Coach Walker was teaching at our junior high at the time, so I jumped at the chance and went right down there,” said Hart. “He was so well-respected and exactly what I wanted – a no-brainer.”

Walker, 52, died on Tuesday morning after an eight-year battle with cancer.

According to Hart, he knew Walker was the man for the job – despite 110 applicants for the position – after watching him coach his twin daughters, Madison and Regan, in junior high basketball.

“He was just such an extremely competitive person,” said Hart. “He always had such an intense drive and a desire for perfection.”

After having served as Panthers offensive coordinator under Vance during back-to-back Class 4A state championships in 2006 and 2007, Walker left for the athletic director-head football coach job at Rogers where he remained until returning to Liberty Hill and taking on the dual role for the Purple-and-Gold in 2017.

In just his second season as Liberty Hill’s head coach, Walker led the Panthers to the Class 4A state championship game and compiled a 38-11 record in his four seasons as sideline boss.

But, perhaps what Walker will be more remembered for than his enormous success on the field was the compassionate side he showed to his players – but, more importantly to his family, said Vance.

“He had so much pride in his girls and being married,” he said. “Back in those days, we had a little office and we were all close. I remember when he came in one day and told me he was going to be a father – that was his driving force – his family.”

Vance said Walker used that drive to accomplish whatever mission he was assigned.

“Whenever I gave him something to do, he did it to the best of his ability,” he said. “Coach Walker was a great man and super guy.”

Hart said the affection Walker had for his family carried over to the players on his roster.

“Coach Walker always had such unconditional love for his players,” he said. “His biggest fear was he was going to let them down.”

In fact, Hart said during post-game on-field visits when things didn’t go so well on the gridiron, Walker was always stand-up in taking responsibility.

“After every game, I would go down to the field to visit with Jeff,” he said. “If they had a bad game, he would always take the blame and promise me he would do better.”

Hart added the enthusiasm, passion and dedication Walker passed on to his players wasn’t limited to only the field.

“I’ll always remember the intensity he brought to the weight room,” he said. “He was always a big believer in strength and conditioning, which was why when the fourth quarter would roll around, the fundamentals he believed in would show up in the form of success.”

Superintendent Steve Snell said the loss of LHHS’ beloved coach is being felt throughout the district.

“The loss of Coach Walker has left a huge hole in the hearts of our Liberty Hill community. His leadership impacted so many, and his legacy on the importance of family and community, building kids, and that Walker toughness will forever be remembered in Panther Nation.”

Local youth football coach Shawn Lapuszynski had two sons – Jed, who is currently a senior and Josh, who graduated in 2019 – that played under Walker’s tutelage and said he leaves a void that simply can’t be filled.

“He is irreplaceable as a person, friend and coach,” he said. “Guys like Jeff Walker don’t grow on trees – a rare soul. We already miss him terribly – this has been heartbreaking for all of us. We all love and admire Jeff as a coach and person.”

Lapuszynski regretted he didn’t get to spend more time with Walker during the twilight of his life, but is grateful to have made the acquaintance of the man, he said.

“Personally, it was a blessing to get to know Jeff over the years,” said Lapuszynski. “I’ve missed being able to talk with him in person much since COVID and I’m very sad I didn’t get one more Monday morning conversation with him.”

Liberty Hill head boys’ basketball coach Barry Boren told of a time when he and his hoops squad were getting ready to hit the road for regionals during the Panthers’ run all the way to the Class 4A state championship game in 2019.

“We wanted to practice in our own gym before we left,” said Boren. “When we were getting ready to leave, Jeff got on the bus as we were boarding and said, “Well, I’m not going with you to Kingsville, but I already have hotel reservations in San Antonio.’ He would always go to great lengths to be present at all the different sports, which I think says something about a person.”

Boren said his longtime working relationship with Walker was transcended by friendship.

“In Jeff, I lost more than a boss,” he said. “I lost a friend.”

Arrangements for a memorial service will be announced at a later date.

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