By KEITH SPARKS
The Panthers have been part of what is arguably the best 4A football district in the state of Texas for the past two years, including Waco La Vega, China Spring, and Gatesville, all of whom have been ranked among the top 10 in the state at one point or another. On Thursday, the UIL’s reclassification will be announced. While things aren’t likely to be shaken up a whole lot, there is a chance that the Panthers’ district could look different.
Liberty Hill Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jeff Walker said the UIL has kept word from getting out thus far, but has seen some different projections. One has their district remaining pretty much the same, and the other has them moving further south.
“UIL does a great job of keeping everything quiet,” Walker said. “There’s a whole bunch of people out there that speculate, and a couple I’ve seen has us staying in the same district and probably picking up Taylor. I’ve seen where we go further south and go in with Boerne and Fredericksburg and those guys, while the Waco La Vegas and Chinas go up north. I’ve seen a few different ones, but nobody really knows. It’s all just speculation.”
While there isn’t an official meeting of coaches to announce the reclassification, Walker does have some meetings in place immediately following the announcement. Once the announcement is made, he said, most coaches across the state begin scrambling to schedule games for the next two years.
“There’s a whole bunch of different meetings we’ll be going to,” Walker said. “I’ll be going to Round Rock, and I’m sending a coach to Waco, and I’m sending a coach to San Marcos. Doing that, just because we need games. When it comes out, people are looking for games, and it’s just a great time to try to finalize your schedule.”
Over the past two seasons, the Panthers have played Port Lavaca Calhoun, which is more than a three-hour drive each way. Over the next two years, Walker hopes to avoid that, but isn’t having much luck so far.
“I’m hoping to play somebody within a two-hour radius,” Walker said. “Right now, the only two schools that have called me are Corpus Christi Calallen, where I graduated from, and they played in the State Championship last year, and Argyle, who has a history of playing for the State Championship. Those are the only two schools that have called me.”
One of the major reasons behind the Panthers’ struggle to find local competition is their unique Slot-T offense, which many teams don’t like to face. Many teams won’t play against the Slot-T again for the rest of the season, so it doesn’t make much sense for them to game plan for it during pre-district play.
“I’ve called probably 100 schools in the surrounding areas, and nobody will play, so I’m really struggling finding games,” Walker said. “I also don’t want to do too many Port Lavacas on our schedule. It’s just too hard for the kids and the community and everybody involved. We’re trying really hard to get some games close by, but it’s not looking very good.”
Although Walker hopes to avoid traveling long distances, it may be unavoidable. His history as a football player at Calallen, coupled with their similar struggle to find games, may end up forcing a game between the two schools on a neutral playing field.
“Calallen, obviously, I played there, so I think he knows, he got word that we’re having trouble finding games, and he always has trouble finding games,” Walker said. “I think he thought, ‘Well, heck, I’ve got somebody over there, so I’ll just try to see if he’s willing to play,’ and we talked about meeting in the middle or something. Argyle is just a pretty good program right now, and people are trying to find easier games, so they can find some wins in pre-district. He’s kind of pushing the panic button like I am, but I talked to him today and told him I’d be in touch if we can’t find anybody closer.”
Argyle has been one of the top teams in the state at the 4A level for years, and most teams like to play games that they have a good chance at winning during pre-district. While that doesn’t scare Walker and the Panthers, he simply would rather not travel that far, but may be forced to if local teams won’t agree to play.
“We’re willing to play anybody,” Walker said. “It’s just, when you go that far away, or you meet in the middle and lose a home game, or you have to spend three and a half hours on the road on a Friday night, and that’s just not fair to anybody, especially when there’s teams in the Austin area, you’d think somebody would play you, but right now it’s looking kind of bleak.”
The UIL distributed a press release in advance of the announcement that included conference and division cutoffs. 4A schools will have an enrollment of anywhere between 505 and 1,149 students, which will include 191 schools for basketball and 183 schools for football. For football, 93 of those schools will be 4A Division 1, and the other 90 will be 4A Division II.
Another press release with the final reclassification information will be released at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 1. Look for the news at Facebook.com/LibertyHillIndependent.