Westwood flag football

Jumadre Murchison runs through drills in preparation for the upcoming season of Westwood youth flag football. The Panthers are the defending Super Bowl champions and are coached by Joshua Webster and Justin Bailey.

PALESTINE— Champions are made in the offseason.

That’s what Westwood Panther youth coach Joshua Webster adamantly told his team during this summer’s volunteer workouts.

The Panthers youth flag football team, part of the Westwood Youth Football League, posted a 9-0 record last year en route to winning their first Super Bowl. They averaged more than 27 points a game on offense while only allowing 12 points on defense per game.

Eleven players return from that championship team.

“It’s very exciting to get an opportunity to defend our championship,” Webster said. “These players know our hard work starts on this field before the season begins.”

Coach Webster, along with coach Justin Bailey and three others, have dedicated two and half hours each Tuesday and Thursday to get their players prepared for the upcoming season. 

You can find them training and conditioning across from Westwood High School. But along with the need to get their athletes in physical shape comes a responsibility to provide them with a disciplinary structure many of their players may lack at home.

“A lot of these kids don’t have father figures at home,” Webster said. “We give them a sense of that when they spend those practices with us.”

The youth coach position is not just a slot to be filled, it is an opportunity to impact young lives and for that reason, their job isn’t taken lightly or filled with the first person who volunteers.

Many people see the youth coach position as one that is less worthy than a high school or college coach when the reality is that these coaches are the people who help shape tomorrow’s college and pro stars.

Behind every training, every drill, there is a life lesson. Lessons on discipline, hard work and a refusal to quit are a few of the many takeaways from each practice. 

“We teach more than football,” Webster said. “We teach life — not to take it for granted. Just because something comes easy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t handle it with respect.”

What has been rewarding for these Westwood youth coaches is the support they received from their parents. They’ve allowed the coaches to not only mold them into good players but good people.

For some, these coaches have often become a sort of surrogate parent to these athletes. The love and support coaches provide stretches beyond the game.

“I relate because I was once one of these that needed the structure sports to provide,” Webster said. “To see the support these parents gives us is needed to do our job effectively.”

How focused and determined the Westwood Panthers youth team will be ever-present this season when it begins in late August.

The Panthers went from the hunted to the head hunters last season as they stomped through the competition. 

Still, Webster carries an underdog mentality when it comes to preparation.

“We’re not taking anything for granted,” Webster said. “If we can beat you by 30 we will. We’re focused now that we’ve had that taste of success. It’s exciting.”

Once volunteer practices conclude, mandatory practices will begin on July 12th. The league includes kids from ages 4 up to 12.

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