The Plant Panthers certainly have some pieces at the skill positions to make noise this season, but on Sunday afternoon at Larry Sanders Sports Complex in Progress Village it was their players in the trenches that were the stars of the show as Plant’s “Gold” team took home the top honors at the event.
The Panthers pulled–or shall we say–“pushed”–their way to the top spot in this year’s event edging out Boone High School from Orlando in the final event of the afternoon. The Panthers posted time of 12.82 seconds was good enough to overtake the Braves’ “Orange” team at the last second.
“It’s our third time here and our third year in-a-row finishing in the top five, it just good for these guys and in this day-and-age it’s all about the 7-on-7 guys, so it’s a fantastic opportunity for these kids to come out here and show off what they could do,” said Boone Head Coach, Andy Johnson. More on our visitors and third place finishers later in the week, as they certainly have an interesting story behind them.
The members of the winning squad were sophomore Olijae “OJ” Augustin (113 points), junior Dominic Feijoo (155 points), sophomore Judge Culpepper (193 points), junior Thomas Allen (210 points), sophomore Devin Curry (112 points) and Bryce Love (196 points) and were coached by Sean Love and Billy Minahan. We caught up with the Panthers’ Head Coach, Robert Weiner after the event–who, even by his own admittance has brought much “bigger” groups to BITR, but he says this year’s win and dethroning of three-time defending champions East Lake has a special meaning.
“The cool thing with this is that we’ve had a lot of years with big “prototypical” sized guys–you know the 6-5/280 guys on both sides and this year–we are not that.” said, Weiner. “We talked about it from the beginning and they all talked about it amongst themselves as well that it’s about understanding who you are so therefore get into the weight room and be the strongest you can possibly be—become the best fighters you can possibly be–become high school heroes and in our first state championship back in 2006 that’s what we won with. They weren’t the number one-ranked recruits in the country, it was just a bunch of lunchpail guys who went to work and were gonna go hard the entire time–and that’s what these guys are this year.”
As we alluded to in the beginning, it was kind of a foregone conclusion that the Panthers were going to be productive from a skill-position standpoint this season, but now that the productivity is seemingly spreading to the trenches, the Panthers and their staff are downright giddy at the overall potential of this team come the fall–as long as things keep moving in the direction they are. Weiner was genuinely excited at the prospect of something that really can’t be taught following the event.
“This is a really, really good sign for us. Some people might think it’s just an offseason event, but there’s a lot that goes into this. Like Preston said, the main thing is the teamwork and the camaraderie and the fact that we won something that requires the best teamwork and the best team camaraderie says something to me because that’s the way this group is going to have to be for us to be champions.”
That begs the question. Was he pleasantly surprised? Or was it confirmation of what he–(but maybe not us)–already knew? “I think it confirmed it–because we knew–okay, man–the agility stuff we needed–we’re smaller so we needed to be faster–we just needed to be able to move and they were great in all of those drills in the beginning,” said Weiner.
Their head coach wasn’t done gushing over his players’ performances, though. With a smile from ear-to-ear, Weiner seemed most-ecstatic over the concept that his players worked through the process and got the results largely based on their own game planning that took place before the final event occurred.
“What I love about the sled push at the end is that we’re not real big sled team. What I loved about it though is that it required the guys getting together and talking-it-out about how to attack it–so a little panning, a little scheming—and then it required them working together–so that showed me a lot to me and I can’t say that I was surprised by that, but I can say I was really pleased with that. If I remember last year, and I’m not 100% sure, but I think the winning time last year was 13.8 and this was 12.82 and they were flying. They responded to the challenge and that really, really bodes well for our team.”
The Panthers will head back to South Tampa and use this event as a foundation for certain, but one thing’s also for certain–if the Panthers’ line plays with the same productivity when the pads come on, it’s a katie-bar-the-door situation. Perhaps the funniest thing from all of this is that the Panthers are four-time defending state champions and it’s not like those rings were won in an era where the TV’s were black/white and we can’t remember the last time they brought home the hardware–it’s recent past. It’s a rather unique situation that the Panthers would be considered “darkhorses” for a state title with the kind of tradition they’ve now created for themselves, but here they are–and here is Coach Weiner absolutely reveling in the opportunity to make them eat their words as well.
“If we can be good upfront then we have a chance to be really, really good,” said Weiner. “We love that spot–(referring to coming from “nowhere” to become contenders this season.) It’s hard to win four state championships and still come out of that spot, but we seem to be thrown in that spot quite often, so good stuff!”