As the Liberty County High School football players prepare for the upcoming season, a common theme is brought up by the coaching staff as they discuss the difference between last year’s Panther squad and this year’s version.
The coaches agree they’ve invested more time working with special teams. They agree opponents will zero in on five-star national recruit Raekwon McMillan, whether he is playing on the offensive or defensive side of the ball. They also know they want to earn region wins after going 0-3 last year in 3A-AAAA.
But the repetitive theme this year among the coaches is that the Panthers are fast.
“This will be my fourth year here, and this is probably the fastest team we’ve had since I’ve been here,” linebacker coach Tony Glazer said.
Assistant coach and speed trainer Nathan Mims said a lot of time during the offseason was spent on strengthening the players’ hamstrings and increasing the flexibility of their hip flexors. Adding muscle and power to the hamstrings help players become more explosive, while the added flexibility helps their stride.
“We have a lot of faster guys in the skilled position this year,” Mims said, adding that wide receiver Paris Boles is the fastest and McMillan comes in at No. 3. “Boles had an (knee) injury last year, but he worked super-hard during the offseason every single day, and he is faster now than he was before his injury.”
Explosive speed means the defense can blitz and pressure the opposing quarterback. It also means the Panthers’ running backs can blow by defenders. And it shows the players were dedicated their offseason in getting better.
“We have more speed and more strength … we had 45 players that made 100 percent of workouts,” offensive coordinator Ryan Glazer said, adding that was up from 12 the previous year. “There is something about this group … I mean, every year you feel like you have something special, but this group you just feel like they have the talent.”
Panthers head coach Kirk Warner said when they time their players in the 40-yard dash, they lace up the cleats and run on the field, not on tracks like other schools.
“We don’t play football on the track … we had about 60 percent of the team run the 40 in under 5 seconds flat,” he said. “When you can run 5-flat … in cleats … on grass, well, that is pretty good.”
The Panthers will test their speed in their preseason scrimmage Aug. 16 at Glynn Academy. They open the season against Bradwell at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30 at 7:30 p.m.