By KEITH SPARKS
The Liberty Hill faithful got their first look at the Panther football team during the Purple and White Scrimmage Saturday at Panther Stadium. In near triple-digit temperatures, Head Coach Jeff Walker and his staff took a look at their players in pads for only the second time.
Saturday’s scrimmage was a heavily controlled one, as the coaches often stopped the action due to a missed block, a blown play, or players lining up in the wrong formation.
One of the biggest advantages of an intrasquad scrimmage, according to Walker, is that he and the other coaches get to look at every player on the roster in game-like situations.
“The great thing about an intrasquad scrimmage is that you get to look at more kids,” he said. “When you go against another team, obviously, when we go to Alvarado, some of our kids won’t get as much playing time. When you’re going against yourselves, you get a little more time. You get to look at everybody. We have 52 kids and we got to look at all 52 kids, and you get them on tape.”
In addition to giving the coaches an opportunity to evaluate everybody on the roster, the Purple and White Scrimmage was also a way to get the players excited about putting pads on and hitting each other after spending a long offseason without them.
“It’s the second day in pads, so it’s kind of fresh for everybody,” Walker said, “and it’s time for everybody to get out there and run around and run into each other.”
Saturday’s scrimmage was the first opportunity that Walker and his staff had to film the Panthers, which can go a long way in telling the coaches who is and isn’t ready to play on Friday nights.
“You get them on tape, and we always say the eye in the sky doesn’t lie,” Walker said. “It’s time for them to show either that they can play or they can’t play. When we start moving down the road to Alvarado and Taylor, we’re going to start getting our players who really can play and start getting them the reps.”
One of the goals for the Panthers on Saturday was to get physical, as Walker’s practices typically don’t include a lot of teammates hitting teammates, in order to avoid injuries during practice.
“We don’t go live a lot in practice,” he said, “so we get to tell them go out there and go full speed, so you get to look at them like that in a not-as-controlled environment. In practice, we’re pretty controlled. We don’t run into each other much. I live under the philosophy of not getting anybody hurt in practice. If I’m going to lose somebody, I’m going to lose them in a game.”
After having an opportunity to sit back and evaluate Saturday’s scrimmage, Walker wasn’t particularly pleased with the Panthers’ performances. Although he expected more from his team than what they showed, he explained that intrasquad scrimmages are supposed to be sloppy.
“I’ve never really looked good in an intrasquad, and don’t really care to look good in an intrasquad,” he said. “I tell people all the time that it’s tough for me to say, ‘Hey, you go cut that guys legs and make him go the other direction,’ when we’re playing against ourselves. It’s kind of just to go through the motions and get used to our pads and let everybody get out there and kind of get a feel for the game.”
Despite his relatively low expectations for the Purple and White Scrimmage, Walker was clearly disappointed in what the film showed.
“I’m not good when it comes to film time,” Walker said. “I’m hard on kids. We didn’t do much good on Saturday. It’s just a time for us to step back and say, “Hey, this is what we need to be doing and this is what you did.’ I didn’t see a lot of positive, to be honest with you.”
It isn’t often that a varsity football coach is pleased with his team’s performance on their second day in pads, so Walker’s concerns should come as no surprise. That isn’t to say, however, that he isn’t confident in the Panthers’ potential moving forward.
“I still think we’re going to be a great football team, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I just think in your second day of pads, when your kids haven’t been in pads for eight months, we’re just trying to get used to those things all over you and your helmet and everything else. ‘Hey I can run into you now, full-speed, because I have all this armor on.’ We saw that we’ve got a lot of work to do. The great thing is I still think we’re going to get to where we want to be. It’s just that we’d like to start a little further than where we are right now.”
After running through offensive and defensive sets for close to two hours at Panther Stadium, all 52 players and the coaching staff headed to the practice field to hit the padded sled as a team. In groups of six, the Panthers got in a three-point stance and exploded toward the sled in unison in an attempt to push it back as far as possible.
“It’s toughness,” Walker said of the sled competition. “We try to make it a tough-man competition. The sleds are not really that hard. I just felt like when you start putting on your pads, sometimes it takes a while to realize, ‘Hey, I can really fire into somebody and it doesn’t hurt.’ I’m a big sled guy. I do think it serves its purpose in our offense big time. Since we didn’t get it done (in the scrimmage), instead of jogging a couple gassers, I thought we’d get more out of it. I don’t like to do anything that wastes time.”
After graduating a number of starting seniors last year on both sides of the ball, Walker understands that many of this year’s players are being thrust into positions that they aren’t used to after not getting much playing time last season.
With their first official game of the season taking place on Sept. 1, Walker and his players know now more than ever that no time can be wasted.
“We found out that we need to make every day count, and the kids did, too” he said. “I had kids apologizing to me, saying ‘Sorry, Coach. I’m better than that,’ and I would say, ‘Hey, so am I. I need to coach you better than that.’ We all kind of learned where we’re starting. We all saw that we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re not one of those teams that’s going to get off the bus and just be great. We’ve got to work. We haven’t hit the panic button, yet, but we’re to the point where we’re going to start moving people around now and trying to find our best 22.”
The Panthers will play in their first scrimmage against another opponent this Saturday, August 19, at Alvarado High School at 11 a.m.