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Bob Lutz: Hibler, Independent change football culture

Published Sep. 13 at 4:49 p.m. | Last updated Nov. 2 at 7:30 a.m.

Jordan Reed ran for five touchdowns and passed for another in his Independent debut in Week 1 against Medicine Lodge. The Panthers won the game 61-33 to make his performance even better.

But just try to get Reed, a transfer from Rose Hill who showed up at Independent for the second semester last school year, to boast.

Instead of pointing toward his performance — 143 rushing yards on 16 carries and another 25 passing yards — Reed credit his offensive line.

“They did most of the work,’’ he said. “And overall, our team had a great game.’’

The offensive line, finally, is worthy of praise at Independent. When Jarrod Hibler arrived as the Panthers’ coach in 2011, the team was going nowhere. But an 0-9 finish in Hibler’s first season didn’t deter him. Formerly the offensive coordinator at Maize, Hibler was familiar with Independent because he was the wrestling coach.

“So I knew some of the people here,’’ Hibler said. “When the opening for a football coach happened, they contacted me and really made a push to get me over here full-time as an administrator (Hibler is an assistant principal) and a coach.’’

And last season, it became evident why the Independent administration was so interested in Hibler.

The Panthers improved from 0-9 to 6-4. They made the Class 3A playoffs, although they were trounced by Conway Springs, 69-38, in the first round.

But a building block had been laid and Independent tried to build on it Friday night against Cheney. But a 34-7 loss left the Panthers 1-1.

“It’s my third year and we’re a pretty good team now,’’ Hibler said earlier this week. “We have some talent.’’

He was thrilled to get a player like Reed, a senior who has beefed up the offense. But it’s the line where the beef is most on display.

“We’ve got some big kids here now and size does make a difference,’’ Hibler said. “And all of these kids are underclassmen, so they’re still going to grow.’’

He clicked off the names of the offensive linemen: Bryant Robertson (6-foot, 230 pounds), Anthony Little (6-2, 285), Braden Donnelly (5-11, 290), Justin Newman (6-4, 230) and Walker Chandler (6-6, 215).

“We have to keep those kids growing in their knowledge of the game, too,’’ Hibler said. “They all had great games against Medicine Lodge.’’

Independent knocked off Chaparral, 61-58, in one of the most entertaining games of the 2012 season. The Panthers also beat Belle Plaine, Douglass, Remington, Medicine Lodge and Bluestem.

But the Central Plains League is one of the toughest in the state and Independent isn’t yet on the level of Garden Plain and Conway Springs. Few 3A teams in the state are. And Sedgwick, which beat Independent 46-0 last season, is a tough district opponent.

The Panthers went from no wins to six in warp speed. Hibler and his players know improvement from here will be even more of a challenge.

“Schools like Conway Springs and Garden Plain have sustained success over a long period of time for a reason,’’ Hibler said. “We’re hoping someday to be at that level. It’s fun just to get a shot at them. We gave it a go last season. I was really impressed with how our kids played against some top-notch teams.’’

Independent didn’t play Garden Plain last season and doesn’t have a game with the Owls on the 2013 schedule, either. But the Panthers do play at Conway Springs next week after allowing the Cardinals 117 points in two losses last season.

“We’re looking forward to finding out how we compare to some of the good teams in our league,’’ Reed said. “Cheney is a good team and Conway is definitely a good team. A great team.’’

Independent, which had a record of 16-56 from 2004 through 2011, isn’t there yet. And getting there is an arduous task.

Hibler, though, is pushing.

“We want to change the football culture here,’’ he said. “We’ve had success here in several sports. Our baseball team has been top-notch for several years and we have had a lot of success in tennis, cross country and some other sports. Basketball is starting to win some games.’’

And so is the football team. Now it’s just a matter of how many.

“I’m definitely invested here,’’ Hibler said. “I’m with these kids all day, every day. Two of my kids go to school here. I have an eighth-grader who is playing football. It’s always been a numbers issue here, but we’re sitting at about 30 kids this year. To play the Conways, Garden Plains and Cheneys, who normally have 50 to 60 in a bad year, is difficult. It’s tough to compete. But we’re hopefully going to show that Independent isn’t going to get pushed around like we have before.’’

Reach Bob Lutz at 316-268-6597 or blutz@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @boblutz.

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