Season’s first full-pads practice shows promise, room for improvement
By Keith Sparks
The theme of Saturday’s practice — this season’s first in full pads — seemed to be keeping energy levels high. Liberty Hill Head Football Coach Jeff Walker said that’s almost always the case on the first day in pads.
“Always the first few days in full pads, it takes them a while to get used to, and it’s never the speed we want it to be right away,” Walker said. “It takes a while to carry those things around and get used to them again, so that’s the focus is us trying to get faster in our pads.”
Although frustrated with the energy at times on Saturday, Walker said it was about what he expected. As long as they improve upon it every day between now and their first game, Walker said the Panthers be in good shape.
“It was about what I expected for the first day,” Walker said. “I just would like it to be faster than the day before as we go along, but it was about what I expected. It does take a while. I’m just not very patient.”
Saturday’s practice featured a little bit of everything, from individual positional drills to game-like scenarios. Even in those game-like scenarios, though, it’s difficult to judge a team’s performance until you put another team in front of them.
This Saturday, Aug. 18, the Panthers will get that opportunity as Brownwood visits Liberty Hill for a scrimmage.
“It’d take me a week to name all the things we need to work on and get better at, but we still haven’t gone live,” Walker said. “We go against dummies, so we’ll know a lot more come Saturday against Brownwood. They’re bringing a pretty good football team here and we’ll let it go then, but typically in practice, it’s really hard for us to see what we’ve got until we get out there and start really flying around and hitting somebody. We typically don’t do that in practice, so I’ll know more Saturday.”
The first Saturday of football season typically features an intrasquad Purple and White scrimmage, but the UIL’s schedule adjustments threw a wrench in things by making Saturday the first day they were allowed to be in pads. With it being their first day, Walker didn’t want to risk injury by hosting a scrimmage so early.
“UIL changed what we were doing this summer, so I just didn’t feel comfortable going on our first day in full pads,” Walker said. “We’ve been in shorts for three days, but putting the pads on and considering we have a few that are a little beat up, I always struggle with that anyways — us getting after each other. You don’t want to get somebody hurt doing some silly stuff, so I’ve always been leery of an intrasquad anyway, so it kind of played into the way I like it to be.”
Saturday was also the first opportunity the Panther coaching staff had to see some players in new positions with pads on. Surprisingly enough, Walker said each of them looked better than anticipated, but he’s tempering expectations until he sees how they perform against outside competition.
“The scary thing is they look pretty dang good early on,” Walker said. “Once again, we haven’t really run into anybody, so I don’t want to get too excited because it’s a big difference when people start bringing the helmet with them and there are some collisions and stuff where we’ll see if we can stay in one piece. We broke a lot last year, so it’s going to be important to see them take some hits and bounce back up, keep doing it down after down after down. I can look good for 10 plays. It’s that 70th, 80th, 90th where people are tackling you and you’re getting up off the ground. Are you still going to be able to break tackles and get to your blocks? We’re still really far away, but first impression is I think guys we have in positions right now can get it done. It’s just a matter of them going out and doing it now.”
For football fans, Saturday served as a sort of opening ceremony for football season. While Walker said 20-plus years on the sidelines have numbed some of the excitement, he is looking forward to seeing who steps up and who folds under pressure.
“We’ve seen it all for 20-some-odd years, and it gets to a point where we know what we’re looking for and what to expect,” Walker said. “Obviously, we still get excited about this time of year. Kids stepping up, and a lot of our young kids and old kids, alike, have their first opportunity to prove they belong on a Friday night football field, so it’s exciting to see if they’re going to rise to the occasion or they’re going to turn it down. That’s always exciting.”
Following a full week of practice, the Panthers will take on Brownwood Saturday at 11 a.m. at Panther Stadium in what will likely be a heavily controlled scrimmage.