Liberty County High School is ready to put last year’s difficult football season behind it and is conditioning its players for the 2012 season.
The Panthers (2-8 overall, 0-5 in region) will play in a new region thanks to Georgia High School Association re-alignment. They have a junior linebacker who already has received offers from numerous Bowl Championship Series schools. But the Panthers will have to fill a void left by graduated running back Shadrach Thornton, who has moved on to North Carolina State.
Last season, the Panthers competed in Region 2A-AAAA, but this year they move to Region 3A-AAAA. While they no longer play Richmond Hill, Effingham County, Ware County or Brunswick, they still have a challenging schedule that includes Appling County, Cross Creek and Johnson High in Savannah.
“The competition is still going to be there and be tough,” LCHS Panther coach Kirk Warner said. “We are familiar with some of the teams … We will play Glenn Hills again, Hephzibah, Statesboro and Wayne County, so we are familiar with them. Overall, from top to bottom, I don’t think it’s going to be quite as tough as the region we were in, but it’s still going to be some great competition.”
Warner said conditioning has been going well, but it’s still too early to establish definitive starters at certain skill positions.
Last year’s starting quarterback, JJ Grant, is entering his senior year, but Warner said he is still competing for the job against junior Jordan Waters.
“They are neck-in-neck right now,” Warner said. “We will see who comes on top after practices and the scrimmage.”
The biggest skill position Warner has to fill is the spot left open by Thornton.
“Treneice Williams has been a pleasant surprise, and Andre Haggray played a lot for us toward the end of last season, so we have those guys coming back,” Warner said. “They are not as big and as powerful as Thornton, but they are little bit more shifty.”
Warner said it all boils down to their offensive line this year.
“I think our strong suit will be the offensive line,” he said. “We finally have four returning starters back, and they have gelled together. If the offensive line takes the lead, I think they can open up some holes for those two backs.”
But this season, Warner knows all eyes will be on returning starting linebacker Raekwon McMillan. McMillan gained varsity playing time as a freshman and has steadily improved. Last year, he had 97 tackles, an interception and a sack on defense and rushed for 64 yards on 18 carries.
His speed, agility and 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound frame has garnered 20 offers from BCS schools across the nation.
Warner said McMillan still has plenty to learn if he wants to be the top college prospect for the class of 2014.
“We will continue to teach him … We are looking for him to be our leader,” Warner said. “There is a lot of technique type stuff that he needs to get better at to become that elite player.”
Warner said McMillan is self-motivated when it comes to working hard and setting goals.
“He wants to win; he doesn’t want to go to college saying his team went 2-8. He wants to win, and he wants to win big time,” Warner said. “I think that is going to be a motivating factor for him. The physical ability is going to be there. He is a 16-year-old kid so he is only going to get bigger and stronger.”
This weekend, McMillan is headed to the University of Georgia to participate in Dawg Night. Here is the list of schools that have made offers to McMillan: Alabama; Alabama State; Auburn; Clemson; Florida; Florida State; Georgia; Georgia State; Georgia Tech; Miami, Fla.; Mississippi; North Carolina; North Carolina State; Notre Dame; Ohio State; South Carolina; UCLA; Southern California; and Texas.