Sanders’ dedication will bring Panthers success

Senior offensive lineman Jake Sanders (#75) was named to the District 8-3A All-district First Team last season, and is a key team leader in 2014. (Kathy Canady Photo)

Senior offensive lineman Jake Sanders (#75) was named to the District 8-3A All-district First Team last season, and is a key team leader in 2014. (Kathy Canady Photo)

By Taylor Grafft

For senior offensive lineman Jake Sanders, football means more than just playing every Friday night in the fall under the lights — it’s a way of life. It’s a sport he says consumes his life 365 days a year and this season he has hopes to help Liberty Hill get back to the state championship game, something the Panthers haven’t achieved since 2007.

The Liberty Hill Panthers had a rough start to their season when they fell to La Grange in their season opener last Friday, but according to coaches and Sanders, the tough non-district schedule and that adversity will help prepare them for district and a deep playoff run.

Sanders, 6’2” and 265 pounds, was one of three Liberty Hill Panther offensive linemen to make the All-District First team last season and all three are returning starters. That veteran line is looking to be the driving force that leads the Panthers to success in 2014.

Sanders was joined on that list by fellow teammates Colton Hall who plays center, and Tyler Smith who was named to the All-Central Texas Third Team in 2013.

“Colton and Tyler, we’re not only brothers on the field, but we’re brothers off the field as well,” Sanders said.

The Panthers have had to battle a lot of injuries early in the season, but one of their most significant is the loss of Tyler Smith until the start of district play. Sanders says that the players that have stepped into his spot have done a great job trying to fill the veteran lineman’s shoes.

“I’m really proud of all of the guys to replace him,” Sanders said. “They have stepped up and filled his shoes well. The talent (of the whole team) is slowly progressing, and everyone is improving day by day. Everyone on our team is an athlete on the inside.”

Sanders started playing football in fifth grade at Liberty Hill Intermediate School at the age of 11. It was there that he fell in love with the game and started participating because all his friends were playing.

One of the qualities that sets Sanders apart from other talented linemen around the state is the young man’s relentless work ethic to get better every day. Sanders says he gets lazy at times, but when he is focused he can get a lot done.

“I would consider my work ethic strong at times, but I often get lazy,” Sanders said. “I’ve been working on my speed this season, which has increased tremendously.”

This offseason was a busy time for the senior as he worked to get stronger.

“My schedule was really busy,” Sanders said. “I woke up early to participate in the PAC program. I would then work out on my own for two hours at Anytime Fitness.”

Sanders is close to his family and one of the common bonds they share is their love of football. Sanders’ father played football in high school and his brother is currently a star player for the Liberty Hill 8th grade A-team.

Some of the things that Sanders has learned over the years are that in order to be successful you have to work hard, be dedicated, have a strong work ethic, be coachable and have good discipline.

The Liberty Hill coaches have played an important role in developing his talent and abilities. One coach in particular is offensive line Coach Scott Hawkins.

“All of the coaches have been a huge help to me,” Sanders said. “They push me to do my best when it comes to being a leader not only on the field, but in the weight room as well. Coach Hawkins has really been my rock. He is always there for me and pushes me to do my best.”

With his high school football career coming to a close, Sanders is determined to play football in college, but does not know where that will be. He says there are many options that have become available to him.

Sanders also participates in powerlifting for the Panthers, but says he enjoys fishing and hunting with friends when he’s not playing football.