When Kent Walker took the reins of Liberty Hill’s athletic program – as well as the title of head football coach – in the wake of the passing of older brother Jeff in December, it wasn’t the first time he had held the dual-role position, having also followed his brother in that regard at Rogers High School.
However, the previous post was at a Class 3A school, as opposed to the Class 5A program – in its first season as such, no less – he inherited with the Panthers.
Still, the new neighborhood isn’t all that contrasted from the old haunts, said Walker.
“I don’t think it’s really that much different,” he said. “Here we just have more numbers of kids.”
Along with a higher enrollment, which means more athletes to manage, comes a bigger set of responsibilities regarding the bottom line.
“There’s definitely a learning curve as far as how things work and the budget,” said Walker. “Different districts do things differently as far as how everything operates.”
But, regardless of the location, the primary focus always remains the same.
“We all go to work every day for the kids,” he said. “We’re solely there for them to try to improve their abilities.”
According to Walker, the biggest challenge for him in the position to this point has been overseeing the establishment of the athletic program at the new Santa Rita Middle School, which is set to open in the fall just in time for the new school year.
“We have new coaches to hire and have to order all the equipment,” said Walker. “All of it just adds a new element, but I enjoy every minute of it.”
In order to take on his new role, Walker had to step out of the classroom – where he taught health – to have the time to focus solely on the athletic program. He said he misses that aspect of his interaction with the student body as a whole.
“I love teaching and just being with the kids in the classroom,” he said. “I made sure I stopped by before the end of school to wish them all a good summer.”
As for Walker, his summer will be much like the other three seasons of the year – tinted with Purple-and-Gold – as there are summer camps in all the various sports to oversee, as well as his personal favorite, Panther Athletic Conditioning – or simply PAC, as it’s commonly known – a seven-week program for athletes in all sports to sharpen and hone foundational fitness skills that will serve them well in their respective arenas and goes right along with his overall philosophy, he said.
“I really love what I do now,” said Walker. “Trying to help our kids get better, which I love.”
The individual sports camps are run primarily by the respective coaches of those sports, a group Walker gives autonomy in doing so and a great deal of credit for what they’re able to accomplish.
“Right now, PAC is our focus,” he said. “But, I always try to step over and say hi to all the kids at the camps. Other than that, I just let our coaches do their jobs in making the camps as fun as possible.”
However, once the leaves begin to change, so will Walker’s attention to the gridiron, as the Panthers will look to build on a hugely successful first season as a Class 5A team – one in which they posted a 12-1 record and included advancing all the way to the state semifinals.
“I’ll definitely spend a lot of time with my focus on football,” he said. “But, I know we have great coaches in volleyball, cross country and tennis who all do such a great job and make sure all our sports are doing well.”
As for the delicate balance between carrying on his late brother’s legacy while stamping his own style on the program, Walker said it’s an easy task.
“My main focus is exactly the same as Jeff’s was,” said Walker. “To always put our kids first in everything we do."