Structure keeps Panthers set up for success when playing on the road
By Lance Catchings
It’s no surprise that it takes a lot of work, dedication and coordination for the Panthers to put a successful product on the field on Friday nights. The players have put in countless hours of practice time and the coaches have put in even more time for preparation, schemes and logistics.
Home games are always special nights in Liberty Hill, but this year the Panthers will board the bus five times during the regular season and hit the highway to play on the road.
Home games require structure and a strict schedule for the coaches and players and Athletic Director Jeff Walker said road games are no different.
“How we structure our Friday agenda for away games really depends on how long the trip we are taking will be,” Walker said. “We have an itinerary from the time we wake up Friday morning until the time we get back home.
“The kids always know what we are doing because I don’t like for them to not know our plan. I don’t think I have ever had a kid in the history of my coaching career need to ask me what are we doing today.”
That organization comes from Walker leaving as little to the imagination as possible for his players. He prefers their focus to be on the task at hand, which is dominating their opponent on the field.
“We script everything we do from Thursday night when they go to bed until they are dismissed from practice on Saturday,” he said.
“Thursday after school we go over the itinerary for the entire day on Friday. We even call our players Thursday night before the game and tell them goodnight. When it comes to time of travel on Friday, the two biggest factors are distance and what time the game starts. Fridays we usually do meetings during the athletic period and pack our stuff. We structure everything from them picking up their jersey until we get back to Liberty Hill on the bus. The itinerary covers almost every minute of the day up until kickoff.”
Friday after the players have gone through meetings and packed their belongings, Walker likes to get his players fed.
“For away games we typically give them a pre-game dinner and then we feed them afterwards depending on the distance,” he said.
“That is the same for all our sports. I try to do the pre-game meal at least three hours before kickoff.”
Although distance and opponent are the main factors of travel time, Walker prefers to get to the opponent’s stadium early with plenty of time for his team to get acclimated.
“We try to get on location for away games about an hour and 40 minutes before kickoff,” he said. “I let the kids walk the field and stretch their legs out a bit from the ride. We then go into the locker room and come out in position groups at different times about five minutes apart. We generally warm up for about an hour and then head back into the locker room 30 minutes before kickoff.”
After the Panthers have done their work on the gridiron, it is back to the post game structure of getting home, getting rest and Saturday practice.
“What we do after the game can vary depending on the distance we travel to get home and how we played,” he said.
“We go back to the locker room after the game and we don’t rush them. We let them shower and then as they get on the bus we usually have some sandwiches for them. I like to try and get them back home as early as possible. We want them back as early as we can get them because we do flush out and watch film on Saturdays with them in the morning.”
Even after the team has made it back home and the players are fast asleep in their beds, the field house is still a busy place.
“As coaches we do a lot more away from the kids,” he said. “Sometimes it if is not too late that night we will watch some film Friday night, but lately we have been coming in Saturday mornings. We grade the kids then get all the stats and stuff off the film before they get there on Saturday.”
Walker believes it is extremely important for his players and staff to know what their responsibilities are. That is one reason he and the staff are so detailed in their pre- and post-game planning. Largely, itineraries remain the same from week to week with minor tweaks.
“I don’t like the kids wondering what we are doing at any time,” he said.
“From Monday through Saturday, they know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and how we’re doing it. It is a routine we get into and they know what to do. We don’t change the itinerary much unless we have an earlier game or a Saturday game. If it is a Friday night game at 7:30 the only thing that we change is how we match that to the distance, we are traveling. We always go out the same time every week and go back to the locker room the same time every week. I believe big time in organization and the kids not wondering about things. They have enough to focus on with the football game and what they need to do.”
With the results from last season and how the Panthers have competed so far in 2018, it is easy to see that his structure works.
“I think structure is huge to our success,” he said.
“After our first week of practice our kids know what we are doing for the rest of the season. I have a plan from day one of the year to day 365. We are planned out Monday through Friday during football season, but when that is over we have plans until we kickoff again. I truly believe that the kids not having to worry about all that other stuff helps with our success.”
On Friday night, the Panthers will play their second road game of the season when they travel to Manor to take on the Mustangs. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.