Liberty County high School football players strapped the chin guards in place and hit offensive patterns and defensive tackles Saturday at a Savannah State University sponsored 7-on-7 football camp.
The Panthers ran offensive schemes against Richmond Hill, Johnson High School and Glen Hills, giving the coaching staff an opportunity to examine the returning players’ improvements and beginners’ skills as they prepare for the regular season, starting Aug. 28 at home against McIntosh Academy.
In all, the Panthers looked sharp and comfortable in the spread offensive the team put in place last season. Entering his senior season, quarterback Julian Stokes was composed, connecting to receivers Michael Rodriquez and Shadrack Thorton.
Panther secondary quarterback Jarrett Rivers showed promise on long attempts as coaches Kirk Warner and Daryl McCulley worked with the youngster on passing techniques on the sideline.
"Our receivers are catching the ball today pretty well and that’s a pleasant surprise when you consider we are missing one of our starters," head coach Warner said. "Julian (Stokes) is looking great."
While some players have yet to hit the gridiron, completing summer baseball and basketball, the coach said the players who have stepped on the field are impressive. Warner said he expects nearly 20 more players to show up for conditioning in July, bringing the roster to nearly 80.
Offensively the coach said Thorton will likely step in to fill the gap left by Roderick Jones, who is headed to Shorter College. Thorton, a freshman last season, began to see action late in the season and continues to improve his agility and speed.
The coach said Charles Gordon will likely have a more active role this season. And a transfer from Alabama, Samuel Cardeman, will see some quality reps.
Michael Rodriguez will get plenty of reps as well, Warner said.
"He’s worked hard to get stronger and faster," he said. "He’s going to be a big-play guy. Right now we are seeing Shad toting the ball 25-30 times and giving it to Mike 15 or so to keep it balanced."
As for defense the Panthers have a solid base of return starters with impressive tackling stats.
"Defensively we are looking really well," Warner said. "We are playing our style of defense and not making any passing league adjustments and we are doing well.
"Thomas Penny, Marcus Jefferson, Artvious Frost and Byron Johnson are holding steady. On defense we are going to be fine as long as we stay injury free."
Tucory Rhodes, Solomon Ball, Shakur Cook, Jovan Bennett, Jevon Jones, Demetrick Mothershed and Melvin King round out returning d-backs, d-ends and linebackers to the Panther squad.
The strong defense and improved offense should prepare for teams like Washington County, Thomson, West Laurens and Baldwin who joined region 3-AAA last season after a Georgia High School Association re-alignment.
Last season the Panthers finished 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the region.