Liberty Hill honored with Gordon Wood Award

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By Scott Akanewich
Sports Editor

WACO — When Kent Walker stepped to the podium to accept the Gordon Wood Award on behalf of the Liberty Hill football program, it was challenging to speak in the aftermath of having just viewed a video tribute to his late brother and former Panthers head coach Jeff Walker.

But, not too challenging.

“Getting up to speak right after that wasn’t easy,” said Walker. “But, it wasn’t the most difficult thing I’ve had to do this year.”

Every year, the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame recognizes a team that embodies the beliefs of the man it’s named after — the legendary coach who won nine state championships during his career on the sidelines.

This year, it was Liberty Hill’s turn to collect the prestigious award, which is given annually to an “especially noteworthy high school football team that displayed good sportsmanship, the ability to overcome challenges, had the support of the community and achieved success on the field.”

What the Purple-and-Gold experienced, overcame and achieved despite of this past season encapsulated all of those attributes and then some.

Jeff Walker passed away on Nov. 30, plunging the Panthers’ football team – and entire athletic department, for that matter – into a state of mourning.

However, with the team about to begin the playoffs, there was much work to be done regardless of the situation, which is exactly what then-interim head coach Kent Walker, his entire coaching staff and most of all – his players – did in advancing all the way to the state semifinals before their postseason run finally ended.

Most remarkable of all was the fact the Panthers accomplished all this despite it being the program’s first season as a Class 5A school.

“The whole evening was a very well-organized, awesome event,” said Walker, of the proceedings that took place at the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in Waco and included an induction ceremony in which nine new members were admitted. “It was a very nice tribute to Jeff and our 2020 football team – it was a tough year for them losing their coach, which made it extremely difficult, but the resilience they showed was remarkable.”

According to Walker, the award doesn’t put a proverbial period at the end of the six-month emotional roller-coaster ride the program has been on, but simply serves as a reminder of the legacy his late brother left behind – and will never be forgotten.

“As long as I’m here, Jeff’s name will be spoken of,” said Walker. “I don’t want all the wisdom he provided for me to stay a secret – I just hope I can do him justice and instill in our players the toughness he had.”

The video tribute was one originally aired on Fox Sports Southwest shortly after Jeff’s passing and one that Kent had not seen again since – until just before accepting the Wood Award – making an already emotional occasion even more so, he said.

“Seeing it for the first time since wasn’t an easy thing to do,” said Walker. “But, it was an awesome night as far as honoring our team.”

Jeff’s widow, Miranda, and twin daughters Madison and Regan were present for the event, which was a nice touch by the organizers, he said.

“It was good for them to be recognized also,” said Walker. “I wanted to make mention of how thankful we all are for them sharing their husband and father with us – he could’ve spent more time with them.”

Despite the fact Walker was honored to receive the award, he said he wouldn’t hesitate for the conditions that caused to be reversed.

“If I could have Jeff back, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” he said. “But, the young men and women of Liberty Hill are better off for having known him.”

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