Football has meant more to the Liberty County Panthers football team this offseason.
It’s been an outlet and a refuge for them, especially after the passing of longtime head coach Kirk Warner.
Warner succumbed to cancer in June, almost two months before the start of the 2022 season. Without someone players looked upon as a father figure, interim coach Tony Glazer said, the Panthers have tried to adhere to what their late coach would have wished.
“Our motto is we’re trying to do what he would want us to do,” Glazer said. “We’re trying to do the things he would want them to do.”
The Panthers players and coaches have had a rocky last year emotionally, coming to grips with the deaths of two coaches in the last year. The mechanics of football, the work on the field and off, have been a coping mechanism, according to Glazer.
“We went through a lot of pain, the coaches, the kids, the whole community,” he said. “I think the kids did a good job. Football time was a good outlet for them. It was obviously a tough experience for these young men. In a 12-month period, we’ve had two coaches on staff who have passed away. It’s been tough on these kids, but they’ve done a good job of handling it.”
The Panthers coaching staff has had a great deal of continuity over the last few years and for the seniors, they have had almost nearly the same coaches for the last three years. That too has helped.
“We’ve got a lot of guys on the staff who have been here for a number of years,” Glazer said. “We have men who care about the kids. The kids needed it. I think that definitely played a role in that we’re all here for the kids.”
Glazer praised the Panthers players for their work during a tumultuous offseason. He pointed to the leadership from running back Paul Brown, a three-year starter, safety James Summersett, another long-term starter, defensive tackle Jah’zir Williams. receiver Ron Golden and D.J. Grant.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who stepped up this summer and took a leadership role, leading by example,” Glazer said.
The Panthers are remaining in Region 3-AAA after the biannual realignment. While region foes Beach, Groves, Johnson and Savannah remain, the Panthers also welcome Long County, Calvary Day, Savannah Christian and Savannah Country Day to the mix.
Senior defensive lineman Terry Simmons, a Duke commit, leads the Calvary Day Cavaliers, who also have one of the state’s top junior prospects, quarterback Jake Merklinger. Calvary defensive end Troy Ford has committed to Central Florida. Tight end Michael Smith is also rated as a four-star prospect in the class of 2024.
Calvary reached the Class A Private quarterfinals last year, and Savannah Country Day reached the Single A Private second round.
The Panthers went 6-4 last year, winning the Region 3-AAA crown with a 5-1 record. The Panthers knocked the Yellow Jackets out of the Class AAA playoffs four years ago in a 38-19 win. SEB won a regular- season matchup 21-7 two years ago.
“Once that summer hit, our focus has been on Southeast Bulloch,” Glazer said. “The thing you notice when you play them is they really don’t make many mental mistakes. They’re very well coached and their kids play hard. It’s been a nice little rivalry. I think there is a lot of mutual respect between the programs and we have had some great games the last couple of years. “
While the offseason workouts and preseason practices often can seem to drag on interminably, the work the Panthers have put in is about to be put to the test.
“We had a good summer from a football perspective,” Glazer said. “It’s just a fun time of year. I think we’re ready to get this thing rolling. Once we hit the first Friday night, those Friday nights fly by.”