The Liberty County Panthers football team endured a season rife with tests — after an offseason that challenged them far beyond the practice field.
The loss of longtime coach Kirk Warner not long before the start of the season rocked the team. But the players rallied around the memory of their coach, using that as inspiration to push them into a playoff run.
Warner’s fatal bout with an aggressive cancer also put Tony Glazer in the position of interim coach. Even as the team held their late coach close in their hearts, the coaching staff and players also knew there was work ahead.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Glazer said. “There are times this year we showed we could be a really good football team. They came in as winners and they’re leaving as winners.”
A schedule built to test them and prepare them for the postseason did just that. The non-region slate had three opponents, two from higher classifications and the other a semifinalist in AAA a year ago. Pierce County, which fell to Carver-Atlanta in the Class AAA playoffs last year, reached the quarterfinals of the Class AA bracket this season.
And the region included No. 2-ranked Calvary Day and Savannah Christian, each of which reached the Class AAA quarterfinals.
“You leave it on the field,” Glazer said of his talk to his team going into the playoffs. “You walk off the field with your head held high and do all we could do. And every one of those kids should have their head held high.”
The Panthers, though, are losing a substantial senior class. Liberty will lose leading rusher Paul Brown, who ran for over 700 yards and eight touchdowns, along with James Summersett, who topped the Panthers in both receiving yards and touchdown receptions. Jamar Joseph, who a kickoff return touchdown among his four TDs on the season, also is graduating. Joseph also snagged a team-best four interceptions.
The Panthers also are losing a big chunk of their offensive line, including Gerald Brewster and Keith Burno.
Liberty’s defense will be hit hard through graduation, starting with defensive linemen Demari Booker and Jah’zir Williams. The top 10 tacklers, led by De’ontae Grant, were all seniors.
Liberty will bring back quarterback Carlos Singleton, who threw for 14 touchdowns and ran for another four, and receiver Ron Golden, who led the team in receptions.