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Panthers chase down the heat
Incoming senior Jarrett Rivers, far right, leads a group of Panther football players during mini-sprints Wednesday morning. Rivers and last season backup quarterback Matt Desbiens are battling for the Panthers’ starting position for the upcoming season. - photo by Phgoto by Patty Leon

The dog days of summer are approaching and temperatures have been hovering in the high 90s recently, making outdoor activities unpleasant. But to the Liberty County High School Panther football players, the heat is mild compare to what they’ll face in a few weeks. The returning players and rookies officially begin practice around Aug. 2.

Panther coach Kirk Warner said the team is having summer conditioning activities early in the day to shield the players from the dangerous afternoon heat.

"We are here from eight in the morning until 10:30," Warner said. "It’s during the time when it’s still as cool as it is going to get. My philosophy on that is at some point we are going to have to practice in it and get acclimated. And this is the acclimation process. We are not out here too long but we have to be out in the weather so we don’t have too many problems when we start full practice when school starts."

He said the increased summer workout activities have helped the team. The coach thinks extra cardio conditioning and strength training helped the squad outlast three opponents last season in overtime. The boys garnered an OT win against Burke and West Laurens during the regular season and LaGrange in the first round of the playoffs.

"I take my hats off to coach (Keith) McGee," Warner said. "He is nationally board-certified as a strength and conditioning coach and I turned the weight-lifting part over to him. And coach Mims does an excellent job with the cardiovascular stuff outside, so the combination of the two has done wonders for our program. As I was growing up, my coaches weren’t that big on weight training, but we were big on cardiovascular training and I firmly believe that helped us win at least three games last year in overtime. We are still not where we want to be but we are definitely climbing the ladder."

Warner said the recent conditioning sessions have drawn the largest turnout of potential players he’s ever seen as a Panther coach. He thinks it will help him fill the gaps left by former players and allow him to move as many as 10 players up from the junior varsity squad.

"I told some of the guys, ‘You might not be as good as some of those players,’" he said. "‘But you can do your part and be the best you can be.’"

The coach said the team isn’t going to participate in as many passing league camps as they did last season but they do have a few on their schedule.

On July 1, they’ll be at the passing league camp at Duval Henderson Park in Richmond Hill. The camp starts at 6:30 p.m.

Warner said it will give him an opportunity to see who is most qualified to fill the starting quarterback spot for the upcoming season.

"Matt (Desbiens) was our second guy last year and at this moment it’s neck-and-neck," the coach said of Desbiens and his quarterback competitor Jarrett Rivers. "Jarrett has been doing a good job this spring but we still probably won’t name a quarterback until later this season."

Rivers was the quarterback for the junior varsity squad and, last year, he also spent time on the varsity team as a wide receiver.

He said working with last year’s quarterback, Julian Stokes, has made him more determined to win the coveted position.

"Julian was a great quarterback and I learned a lot from him," Rivers said. "Last season, I played a bit as a receiver so I was on the field with him and saw his poise on the field and I want to take that to the next level. I’ve been going over my footwork and trying on getting my arm strength up."

He said he has been working every weekend with another quarterback at the YMCA, tossing the pigskin and calling plays.

Rivers said he knows every play in Warner’s book and works with coach Ryan Glazer creating new ones based on his skills.

Desbiens has been the solid backup quarterback for the past three seasons and played as a starter when Stokes was injured. The versatile varsity veteran has the ability to scramble from the pocket and break away from defenders. He is quick on his feet and his slim frame still packs a wallop against his opponents.

The baseball/football player admits he feels a bit more comfortable in a catcher’s uniform rather than football gear but said he plans to play hard to earn the starting spot his senior year.

"I’ve been coming to workouts and playing hard every day," Desbiens said. "I’ve been waiting for four years so it would mean a lot."

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