By MIKE SCHOEFFEL
Football season may be just around the corner. But for some, it’s already here.
Approximately 120 rising seventh through ninth graders attended the 15th annual Jerry Vance Football Camp from July 25-27 at Panther Stadium. In the shadow of the towering home bleachers, eager campers were schooled in the fundamentals of the game while receiving a taste of what it’s like to be a part of the proud tradition of Panther football.
“Our main goal is to get the kids familiar with the coaches, and the coaches familiar with the kids,” said Vance, who has been the head coach at Liberty Hill since 2001. “The kids learn our terminology and what we expect out of our players. They also have a lot of fun. We want to make sure they enjoy themselves while they’re out here, too.”
The Liberty Hill football program has a winning history, particularly since the turn of the century. The Panthers have qualified for the playoffs 12 of the last 16 years, capturing eight area championships, five regional championships, and two state championships. In light of that success, one of the main aims of the camp, as Vance noted, is to teach the kids “how to become champions.”
Having potential players buy into the program’s values at a young age is especially crucial at a place like Liberty Hill, which prides itself on “average kids who work hard and play hard,” as Vance put it. Instilling a sense of tradition in the campers — and establishing a baseline of fundamental skills — is a key factor in making sure they’re prepared to contribute when they’re called upon.
“We’re proud of what we’re about here,” said Vance. “We want to make sure the kids understand that.”
Vance employed the Liberty Hill coaching staff to help with the camp. They worked the campers through position-specific drills to ensure each student got the most out of the experience. Receivers practiced catching and running routes. Quarterbacks worked on their release and hitting their targets in stride. Linemen learned how to quickly exit their stance. Vance also devoted about a third of the camp to special teams, which he believes is just as important as offense and offense.
Another focus of the camp was proper tackling technique, an aspect of the game that has taken on heightened importance as the perils of concussions become more well-known.
“We spend a lot of time with that,” said Vance. “It’s slow, it’s basic. We’re going to make sure we do all of the little things correctly.”
Vance said the average freshman class consists of about 50 students. Of those 50, anywhere from 25-30 will stay with the team all four years. Some branch off into different sports, others simply stop playing. Not every student who comes out for the team attends Vance’s camp — which is entirely voluntary — but the two-time state champion coach believes those who do choose to attend give themselves a leg up against the competition.
“I think kids that go through this camp make the transition [to high school ball] much smoother,” he said. “It’s important for the kids to come out here and find out what we’re all about.”