The Liberty County Panthers’ Black vs. Gold scrimmage starts at 6 p.m. Thursday at Donell Woods Stadium.
According to Panther offensive coordinator Ryan Glazer, the team expects to have 31 rising seniors as well as 34 rising juniors returning when the season starts next fall.
The Panthers will play in region 2-AAA.
“We’ll have some new opponents, some of which we have not played in 10 to 15 years,” Glazer noted. “We played Appling County a couple of years ago, but it will be different. And we finally got some opponents that are kind of close, as far as having to travel. We won’t have to go to Augusta this year.”
For head football coach Kirk Warner, the new region means going up against schools of similar size and talent.
“When we were playing teams like Wayne and Burke that had 200-300 more kids than we had it provided them with a little more depth,” Warner said, adding that won’t be the case next season. “But competition is competition, and I have found over the years the top two or three teams are going to be pretty much equal. I think the first 11 (starting players) are going to be pretty much equal and whoever can build up their depth and backup, that is going to be who has the advantage.”
The Panthers will need to see who will fill the shoes of stellar running back Jacquez Williams, who is headed to Wake Forest in the fall.
“Chris Coleman was our JV running back last year and he had a season-ending injury last year toward the end of the year, when he started playing varsity,” Glazer said about the sophomore. “But he’s been out here taking reps to replace Jacquez Williams.”
Warner added that many of the spots left open because of graduation are already locked in with quality players who have lots of game experience.
“We know what the people we have can do, but we are trying to find some quality backups for depth, especially in the quarterback position,” Warner said, noting that senior Jaalon Frazier and multi-position player Richard LeCounte will take the majority of the snaps. “The running backs are all new, but they are older guys, so we will give some of the younger guys more opportunities to get more ball touches. We also need to add to our D-line.”
Glazer noted that sophomore Josh Swinson has shown potential as a linebacker.
Next season, the Panthers will have three kickers, a position that has been weak in the previous years.
“Alex Sutton will return as a kicker, and two other players who kicked for JV will be kicking at the varsity level as well,” Glazer said.
“In the past, we’ve had to go out and look for kickers,” Warner added. “This is the first time in a couple of years that we got some guys that are returning that have some kind of kicking experience.”
And Glazer said the strategy will remain the same.
“We feel like we’ve built our program to where we want it to be,” he said.
Thursday’s scrimmage is about giving players a chance to showcase their talents to earn positions.
“We will try and rotate a lot of guys in and see what we have, especially in certain spots,” Glazer said. “We do have a few holes to fill from last year. We are replacing six guys on defense and five or six on offense. We have guys that have experience but we need to see if those guys, who were part-time players last year, are ready to be full-time players.”
Of course, all eyes will be on five-star athlete and University of Georgia commit LeCounte as he embarks on his senior season.
“It seems like he has been here forever, which is not a bad thing at all,” Glazer said with a smile. “He has been a leader in the team for the last three years vocally, and backing it up on the field. He has been working in some as quarterback, some wide receiver and, of course, as a free safety. It is going to be exciting to watch him this year, that is for sure.”
Warner said it has been tough on LeCounte waiting for some teammates to get up to his speed.
“He is going to have to be patient with our younger guys,” Warner said. “They are going to make some mistakes, and he is going to be on the field with them. He is going to have to build them and hopefully not tear them down so they can raise their game somewhat towards his. … I hope we can find someone willing to raise their level to Richard’s but he has to raise their level of play by encouraging them and leading by example.”
Tentative LCHS 2016 schedule
Aug. 26, at Bradwell Institute, Hokey Jackson Stadium
Sept. 2, at Statesboro
Sept. 9, vs. Jenkins
Sept. 23 vs. New Hampstead
Sept. 30, at Effingham County
Oct. 7, at Tattnall County*
Oct. 14, at Appling County*
Oct. 21, vs. Long County*
Oct. 28, vs. Brantley County*
Nov. 4, at Pierce County*
*Denotes region game