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Early start awaits Panthers
Liberty County has preseason game Aug. 15
Liberty County High School football player Joaquin Lemapu works on his kicking during practice Tuesday. The Panthers start their season earlier than normal this year. - photo by Patty Leon

Across Southeast Georgia, many high-school football teams are prepping for the season and have at least until Aug. 22 before their preseason games. But not the Liberty County High School Panthers.

With only four other teams in Region 3-AAAA this year, the Panthers had to reach out to six other teams to fill their 10-game season. With all the schedule juggling, Liberty’s first preseason game will be Aug. 15 against South Effingham at Donell Woods Stadium.

The early start means the Panthers have just one month to be gridiron-ready.

“As far as physical conditioning, we started that back in June 2, so I think we are fine in that aspect of the game,” Panther head coach Kirk Warner said. “But this forces us to start implementing our special teams a couple of weeks earlier … We have to concentrate on installing our offense and defense … we are basically about two weeks ahead of schedule compared to last year.”

Warner said the scrimmage against the Mustangs will help nail down who will be the starting quarterback between senior Michael Moore and sophomore Jaalon Frazier. The coach said Frazier had a good 7-on-7 game two weeks ago, while Moore is coming along well after a hand injury during the summer.

Regardless of who is tapped as the starter, both likely will see action for the Panthers, who utilize the running-quarterback-dependent option and wildcat.

Warner said the team needs some depth at kicker, but thinks the return team will do good things this year.

“We are going to be good in the return game with Richard LeCounte, Jacquez Williams and Jarquel Richardson,” the coach said, adding those three players all have speed, agility and good ball skills.

Warner said they are looking for the right guy to be the backup punter.

“We have (Joaquin) Lemapu returning, but we want to build some depth behind him because he is going to be playing full-time linebacker … so we definitely need to find a backup placekicker and punter,” he said.

The Panthers beat South Effingham, 41-17, last November. The Mustangs, who went 5-5 last season, graduated 12 seniors, but starting quarterback Tyler Pullam took many snaps last year. The incoming junior should have a better feel for the game and his role in leading the team.

The Panthers will have to do without heavily recruited linebacker Raekwon McMillan, starting quarterback Jordan Waters, running back Trentice Williams and other solid performers like Freddie McSwain, Xavier Tunstall, Kharn Collier-Ellison and Jeremy Caldwell Fabregas.

But several players have worked all spring and summer to pick up where the talented group of outgoing seniors left off.

LeCounte already has created some buzz and has received scholarship offers from more than a dozen Division I schools. JaMarcus Latson, Jacari Roberts, Calvin Holmes, Williams, Richardson and Chris Helvie also are expected to make big plays this year.

They will need to. Immediately after their scrimmage the Panthers will host the Effingham County Rebels on Aug.22, and then travel to Olvey Field the following week for the rivalry game against Bradwell Institute.

The Rebels went 6-5 last season and have a large group of returning players in the skill positions. The Panthers and Rebels last met in 2011, where they split two games. The Panthers eked out an 18-12 win early in the season, but the Rebels took the Panthers down, 36-20, later that year to kill any playoff chances. The Rebels are 4-2 against the Panthers since 2001.

The Panthers have downed the Tigers the past two years, but with new coach Greg Hill driving the Tigers’ team, the rivalry could be another thriller. That game will be the Tigers’ opener.

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