Before he went to bed on Sunday night, Trapper Pannell set the alarm on his iPhone for 5:45 a.m.
He didn’t even need the wake-up call. Pannell was already out of bed by 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning, eager to begin his last first day of football practice at Tivy.
“It was one of the only times of the year where I didn’t need (an alarm),” said Pannell, laughing. “It was weird. I have never woken up so excited.”
Pannell believes that this is the year, the year he and his teammates contend for a state title and also the year he finally maximizes his athletic gifts. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 180-pound utility player has showed glimpses of his talent the past two seasons, but he insists that he hasn’t even come close to reaching his full potential. He’s confident it will happen this fall, when the Antlers open the season against Dripping Springs on Aug. 30 at Antler Stadium.
Pannell played four positions (quarterback, receiver, running back and safety) last year; he’s likely to spend time at all four again this season, splitting starting quarterback duties with fellow senior Cole Miears. But it doesn’t really matter what position he’s playing; his career average of 10.3 yards per touch suggests he’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
“He wants to be special,” Tivy coach David Jones said after Tivy’s first football practice on Monday. “He’s highly competitive; he wants to do well. I think he has a thirst to be better. He has some physical tools that God has blessed him with. I think people are going to see a real special player.”
Then again, Pannell has produced special moments ever since he arrived at Tivy. He played at Bandera in junior high, but convinced his parents (Jeff and Kathy Pannell) to move to Kerrville before his freshman year — he wanted to be a part of Tivy’s tradition-rich football program. By sophomore year, he was already playing on varsity, and instantly making an impact. During Tivy’s 2017 season-opener against John Paul Stevens, Pannell snagged an interception late in the fourth quarter. He recorded his first career varsity catch on the ensuing offensive possession, hauling in a 56-yard reception that gave the Antlers’ possession inside Stevens’ 5-yard line, setting up the game-winning score. His varsity debut didn’t turn out to be a fluke, either, as he went on to average 8.7 yards per touch in 2017.
He showed similar flashes of brilliance in 2018. He generated 274 total yards and four touchdowns during the Antlers’ 56-28 win over Uvalde. He followed that effort with a six-touchdown performance during Tivy’s 64-62 triple-overtime win over Alamo Heights.
This summer, college coaches also began noticing his athletic gifts. In early June, he received his first Division-I offer from UTEP. He received another offer from Sam Houston State in July.
Still, Pannell believes he hasn’t even approached his best football. He even considers his junior year to be a disappointment. He missed the 2018 season opener against Dripping Springs because of a violation of team rules, which also prevented him from finding a rhythm early in the season. When he was finally entering a groove late in the year, he suffered a left hamstring injury in week 9 against Lockhart which ultimately sidelined him for the final four games.
“I wouldn’t say I was depressed, but I was disappointed that I didn’t get to finish strong,” Pannell said. “I think we would have beat Calhoun (in the third round of the playoffs) if everyone was healthy. (That game) was hard to watch.”
But as soon as that contest ended, Pannell turned his attention toward senior year. He didn’t want to experience another disappointing season, so he sought advice from people he trusted: His brothers (Ty and Tanner), his parents, his coaches — anyone he thought could help him improve.
Tivy receivers coach Kameron Arnold’s was honest in his feedback. Yes, Pannell had the tools to be a Division-I football player, but athletic talent wasn’t enough. Arnold reminded him that the players who succeed at the Division-I level are the ones who possess the best work ethic: They strive for excellence in the weight room, film room, class room and even in their diets. He challenged Pannell to give everything he had in his final off-season at Tivy, to view every day as an opportunity to improve.
Pannell listened. He consistently arrived early to team workouts. He’s naturally reserved, but made an effort to be more vocal, encouraging his teammates during exercises. This summer, he attended seven college camps to attract the attention of college coaches. When he wasn’t at a camp, he was at the Antlers’ field house participating in Tivy’s strength and conditioning camp. During summer evenings, he traveled to Antler Stadium to toss the football and run sprints with his teammates.
“He was a lot more focused this off-season as far as wanting to be better than he was the day before,” Arnold said. “If you’re a really good athlete, and you know you’re a really good athlete, it’s a lot easier to have that day where you wake up and you’re not feeling it. You just go through the motions ... But you could see he was eating up every minute of (the off-season) and
trying to be as good as he could be.”
The hard work began paying off. He added 15 pounds of muscle to his frame during the off-season; shaved a tenth of a second off of his 40-yard dash time (he now runs a 4.6) and he was more comfortable addressing his teammates as a leader.
“You could tell that he was motivating himself for sure to get better, stronger and to make sure no injuries happen again this year,” Tivy senior receiver Stoney Rhodes said. “I even noticed today (during practice) how great of a teammate he’s become. He was encouraging a lot today.
“You can tell that he’s excited about this year for sure.”
It’s why Pannell was so excited that he could barely sleep on Sunday night, why he arrived at Antler Stadium before dawn. He knows how hard he and his teammates have worked the last eight months. It’s about time they show off the fruits of their labor.
“I think it’s going to be a record-breaking year for our offense with some of the guys we’ve got,” Pannell beamed. “I hope we have many more months of these (practices). I plan on playing deep into December.”