What the Liberty Hill Panthers accomplished this season was nothing short of remarkable. Under the most adverse and trying of conditions, the Purple-and-Gold continued to excel on the gridiron, advancing all the way to the Class 5A state semifinals – in their first season in the higher classification.
Certainly all this would be a grand accomplishment for any football team, but the fact the Panthers were able to do so after losing their beloved head coach, Jeff Walker, makes it all the more stunning.
Liberty Hill carried on with heavy hearts for five games – all in the playoffs – following Walker's departure, under the guidance of his younger brother, Kent, coming within a yard of advancing to the state championship game.
In the days and weeks following Jeff Walker's passing, the Panthers quietly went about their business at hand – just as their coach would've wanted them to, with a drive and determination befitting of a man who had both in abundance.
Jeff Walker always made it clear to his players when they went out on the field under the Friday Night Lights not to play for him – but for themselves.
Well, for once, they ignored his advice and that's exactly what they did.
The Panthers indeed played for Coach Walker, did him proud and for once, he probably didn't mind. However, none of this would've been possible without a program which was already steeped in history – one which has always prided itself not on being the biggest, fastest or strongest – but simply the most hard-working and committed.
The fact the team rose to the occasion during such a sorrowful time is surely a testament to the morals and values which are part of the very fabric the Liberty Hill football program is woven from. One thing Coach Walker always tried to instill in his players – perhaps more than anything – was to be tough.
In fact, “Walker Tough” became the Panthers' mantra during their playoff run – a fitting tribute to a man who continued to inspire and motivate even after his passing.
Kent Walker has now taken the baton from his late brother and has already continued to build on what Jeff stood for and with the backing and support of a wonderful community full of caring people, the Panthers will no doubt dominate on Friday nights in the years ahead.
Each year, the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame honors a program which exemplifies the kind of values the Liberty Hill Panthers displayed this season and for that, they have been honored with the 2020 Gordon Wood Award.
By Scott Akanewich Sports Editor, The Independent
This article is available to our Digital Subscribers.
Click "Subscribe Now" to see a list of subscription offers.
Already a Subscriber? Sign In to access this content.