If there is anyone on the Plant football team who knows the challenge facing the Panthers in going to play at Lakeland in Friday’s Class 5A state semifinal, it’s junior running back/linebacker James Wilder Jr.
Last season, Wilder was a member of a Chamberlain team that went to Bryant Stadium in the region final and lost 40-20.
“I’ve been waiting for this game all year,” Wilder said. “On the bus home last year, I cried all the way home. I felt like I let the crowd and everything get to me and I let the team down.”
Wilder is making sure the Panthers are prepared this time. Not even Plant coach Robert Weiner has experienced a game at Lakeland.
Wilder, one of the top junior prospects in the state, described the atmosphere vividly.
“There’s the big screen, the music’s playing really loud all the way until the snap,” Wilder said. “The visiting locker room is under the stands so you hear them stomping above you. You’ve got to walk by their fans to get on the field. They’re exchanging words and throwing bottles. You’ve just got to keep your head down.
“And then there’s the cannon,” Wilder said. “That cannon, man.”
During Plant’s Wednesday night practice, the Panthers brought out speakers and played loud music to try to simulate the crowd noise. Weiner said every verbal signal will have a non-verbal equivalent for Friday’s game. The playlist was from Weiner’s iPod, and included Jay-Z, Linkin Park, Ace Hood and a local favorite, a rap song titled “What you know about Plant High, Plant High?”
“It was a good preparation,” Wilder said. “But it’s no comparison. We’ve just got to have a short memory there and not think about it. I’ve been telling our guys. We have a home-field advantage here. That stadium’s not on their campus. They have to drive there too. If anything, it’s a neutral site. The only difference it they have the L on the field and their team colors.
“We can make it our house too,” he said.