by Chuck Licata
LHHS head football coach Jerry Vance has seen 35 ‚Äúfirst days‚ÄĚ of high school football practice in his long, illustrious coaching career.
Yet, Vance ‚Äď who begins Year #12 as head coach of the Panthers ‚Äď was just as excited Monday (Aug. 6) for Liberty Hill‚Äôs first day of practice as he‚Äôs ever been.
‚ÄúIt never grows old,‚ÄĚ Vance chuckled. ‚ÄúIt doesn‚Äôt feel like I‚Äôve been doing this, this long. Yes, getting up at 4 a.m. seems a bit harder these days but I‚Äôm tickled to death being out here with these kids.
‚ÄúI have such a great coaching staff here. They do such a good job of coaching that I can walk around (the different areas of) practice and concentrate on specific details (to teach the kids). We‚Äôre fortunate here at Liberty Hill to have such a good coaching staff and to have the (quality) of student-athletes that we have here.‚ÄĚ
And, one of Vance‚Äôs former student-athletes has come back here to ‚Äúhaunt‚ÄĚ him.
Actually, former LHHS player Tom (Tommy) Foster, who played for Vance in 2001, was hired to coach at the junior high school level. It‚Äôs Foster‚Äôs first coaching gig.
‚ÄúThis is fun,‚ÄĚ Foster stated. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm enjoying the coaching part while taking it all in.‚ÄĚ
When asked the difference between the kids now, as compared to when he played, Foster responded with a chuckle.
‚ÄúThese players are much bigger than we were,‚ÄĚ Foster declared. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre very strong and in really good shape.‚ÄĚ
Foster then added: ‚ÄúWhat‚Äôs great is these kids have been taught ‚ÄėThe Panther System‚Äô since seventh grade, so they know what we expect of them when they get to high school. Back when I played, Coach Vance and his staff were brand new so we had to learn everything ‚Äėon the fly.‚Äô It was very hard back then; now, these kids walk in and know what they‚Äôre supposed to do. It‚Äôs great.‚ÄĚ
The coaches and players weren‚Äôt the only ones working hard in the August heat ‚Äď although, granted, the heat was much more tolerable this year than it was last year, when practices usually started in 100-plus degree weather.
That‚Äôs where Charles ‚ÄúDoc‚ÄĚ Harrington, Sarah Baulch (known as ‚ÄúMiss B‚ÄĚ) and the LHHS training staff come in.
‚ÄúWe push the water breaks,‚ÄĚ Doc stated. ‚ÄúWe make sure the kids get plenty of water breaks during every hour-and-a-half of practice.
‚ÄúThe kids not only get water. They get Gatorade ‚Äď it‚Äôs on the table (outside at practice), we put it in their lockers and it‚Äôs available in the locker room. Plus the kids have other sources of electrolytes that are very important to them.‚ÄĚ
Weigh-ins ‚Äď and nutrition ‚Äď are just as important.
‚ÄúWe weigh the kids each day, before and after practice, for the first week, then once a week thereafter,‚ÄĚ Doc revealed. ‚ÄúWe monitor how much weight they lose during practice then see if they‚Äôve gained most ‚Äď if not all ‚Äď of that weight back when they come to practice the next day. We keep an eye out for any extreme drop in weight.
‚ÄúWe also help them by giving them instructions on food and drink (to have) when they‚Äôre at home.‚ÄĚ
Harringto knows what he‚Äôs talking about ‚Äď he‚Äôs been doing this for 25 years and started his career in one of the hottest areas (West Texas) for high school football.
That‚Äôs ‚Äúhottest‚ÄĚ ‚Äď as in most popular as well as overall heat factor.
‚ÄúThe training staff continues to work hard because we know the coaches and players need us to do our jobs right so they can (excel) in what they do,‚ÄĚ Harrington said. ‚ÄúWe start early and work hard all day.
‚ÄúPractices are held as early in the morning as possible and end before the heat of the day really kicks in. While practice helps the players, it also helps the training staff ‚Äď that‚Äôs our ‚Äėconditioning‚Äô for game days.‚ÄĚ