Liberty Hill halfback Joe Pitchford (6) has matured into his new role after starting last season as the Panthers' back-up quarterback before a position switch.

Last season, Joe Pitchford began the football season as Liberty Hill's backup quarterback after transferring in from Rouse, where he spent his freshman season on the Raiders' junior varsity squad.

“When I came to Liberty Hill, I planned on playing quarterback,” said Pitchford. “But, I ended up helping out where I was needed.”

Where Pitchford was needed was at the halfback spot in the Panthers' Slot-T offense and 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns later, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound junior is now a staple in the Purple-and-Gold attack.

Through this season's first four games, Pitchford has posted 635 yards on 82 carries and scored four touchdowns, teaming up with fellow junior Noah Long, who has 819 yards and 11 touchdowns in forming a dynamic duo for a potent Panthers running game.

According to Pitchford, the transition from signal-caller to running back wasn't as challenging as one might think.

“Because I was a quarterback, I already knew the offense,” said Pitchford. “So, it really only took me about a week to get everything down.”

Pitchford's bulldozer style of running has also benefit from putting on 15 pounds since last season.

“We have a lot more emphasis on the weight room here than when I was at Rouse,” he said. “You can always get stronger and better.”

Along with his additional bulk, Pitchford said he's also matured more mentally as far as picking up aspects of the game as a play unfolds, which allows him to gain extra yardage.

“I think I'm definitely better now at reading what the lineman are going to do ahead of time,” he said. “I can see where the holes are going to develop.”

One of the personal highlights of Pitchford's season so far was during the Panthers' 56-49 road loss to Hutto, when he threw not one, but two halfback-option touchdown passes to younger brother Jack, who is the only freshman on Liberty Hill's varsity roster.

“It was an amazing thing to be able to do that,” said Pitchford. “I'm not surprised he's on the varsity because he's just a hard-working kid.”

Any big-brother advice to the young buck?

“Just stay focused on school,” said Pitchford. “Football is secondary.”

Comparisons between Pitchford and Blake Simpson, who graduated in 2020 after a senior season that saw the bruising back gain 2,024 yards and score 30 touchdowns in helping Liberty Hill reach the Class 5A Division II state semifinals, are fitting – even though Pitchford never pictured himself in essence replacing Simpson in the lineup.

“When I saw him (Simpson) in the playoffs that year,” he said. “I never thought I'd be playing his position the next year.”

Simpson rushed for 4,388 yards and 56 touchdowns over the course of three varsity seasons, while Pitchford has already rushed for 1,801 yards and 20 touchdowns through the first 18 games of his varsity career and has high expectations for himself this season, he said.

“My goal going in was to rush for 2,500 yards and pass and receive for another 500, so 3,000 combined yards,” said Pitchford. “I'll do whatever I can to help the team.”

Liberty Hill (3-1) hosts Tivy (2-2) for homecoming on Friday night and Pitchford is looking forward to the chance to shine in what will be a festive atmosphere, he said.

“We have to remain focused on the game,” said Pitchford. “But, homecoming really gets the community into the game, so it's extra motivation for us.”