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football coach Robert Weiner will say goodbye this fall to 39 seniors from last year's . For most teams in the county, region, state or country that would spell the end of your program, at least for a few years.
Not at Plant. No one reloads like the Plant Panthers.
Despite graduating more than three dozen players, including three starting defensive backs, two starting linebackers, their top offensive tackle and both starting wide receivers from last year's team, the Panthers may not even skip a beat from last year. It's difficult to improve on a 14-1 season where you won the state championship. However, it is possible, and the Panthers are poised to do it. They recently reported 157 players present for the opening of spring practice.
Returning in the secondary is , and initially, it looked like Bostick might have to carry that group. But the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' recent hiring of defensive backs coach Ron Cooper brought Cooper's son, Tristan, into the ranks at Plant. Tristan Cooper was an all-district wide receiver at The University Laboratory School in New Orleans and according to Plant defensive backs coach Bo Puckett is a "smooth operator that has some of the best hands I've ever seen."
Cooper fills a void both at cover corner and wide receiver. Along with Cooper, rising senior Dereck Mann will play corner and wide receiver, adding even more dangerous depth.
When two linebackers like Tate Rogers and Mike Tate graduate this spring, there would usually be a sucking void of tackles that need to be made(the pair combined for 336 total tackles in 2011), but again, not at Plant. Co-defensive coordinator John Few is excited about his prospects at linebacker. Rising senior Mitchell Wright is as talented as he is versatile. He will also line up at defensive end and even flip around and play tight end this year. Rounding out the starting spring group are rising junior Andrew Beck and rising senior Terrance Jenkins. All three linebackers are more than 6 feet and 200 pounds.
"It's like I have a linebacking core of Division I recruits," Few said.
Several coaches feel like Plant's offensive line is not just a strength now but will be a strength for years to come for the Panthers.
"It's a new era for Plant offensive linemen," said Puckett.
The Panthers will start two towering tackles in rising senior Richie Klepal, who has already garnered multiple Division I offers, and rising junior Ray Raulerson, both of whom are 6-foot-5 and weight more than 250 pounds. Two guards, rising senior Alberto Gonzalez and rising junior Richard Bush, are both at least 6-foot-2 and 240. Bush is a second-year starter, and Gonzalez is actually a converted tight end with a huge upside. Right now, rising sophomore Ken Purdy is starting at center, but rising senior Sam Greives will likely settle into that position when he recovers from a shoulder injury.
Behind this stout offensive line will be a couple fullbacks in rising junior Tommy Rhee and rising senior Al-saleh Sammi. Both lead blockers worked their way up through the Plant JV system and will line up in three-back power sets the Panthers will use in 2012. The primary ball carrier will be under-sized and grossly under-rated rising senior Wes Bullock. Bullock is an every-down back with speed, power and burst.
The Panthers will travel to New Orleans on Sept. 7 to take on another nationally-recognized opponent in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. But first, they will tangle with Leto for a half later this week in a spring jamboree game.
The spring jamboree game is Thursday, May 24.
IF YOU GO:
What: Spring jamboree game, one half vs. Leto High
Where: Leto High School, 4409 W. Sligh Ave., Tampa
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, May 24
Plant Panthers 2012 Football Schedule:
Aug. 24 - vs. Columbus (Miami) (preseason)
Aug. 31 - @ Jesuit
Sept. 7 - @ New Orleans (opponent TBD)
Sept. 14 - vs. Jefferson
Sept. 21 - off (potential make up date for Hillsborough game originally scheduled 9/7)
Sept. 28 - @ Tampa Bay Tech
Oct. 5 - @ Wharton
Oct. 12 - vs. Brandon
Oct. 19 - @ Alonso
Oct. 26 - vs. Armwood
Nov. 2 - vs. Bloomingdale
Nov. 9 - @ Robinson