TAMPA -- Bound by a unique shared experience, their communication is like clockwork.
Every Friday afternoon, hours before Plant takes the field, Phillip Ely will get a call from former Panthers quarterback Aaron Murray, now the starting QB at Georgia. And every Friday night, shortly after Plant leaves the field, Ely will get another call -- this time from Robert Marve, Murray’s predecessor. The next day, Ely will check his phone to find text messages from one of the two, often both.
“I think the coolest thing for me, as the position coach, is just the relationship between those three guys,” said Robert Weiner, Plant’s head coach and quarterbacks coach. “Whether it’s that or Aaron coming back and throwing with Phillip, that’s a really, really cool thing. There’s some natural competition between them, which is good, but at the same time, in the end, they want to see each other do really, really, really well.”
Weiner referred to the quarterback position at Plant as “a unique spot in the sporting world,” noting that he wasn’t trying to sound grandiose or self-important, because of the position’s prominence and school’s recent dominance.
Despite the distance between the three, that bond has helped them remain in close contact. In some cases, like the following story from Weiner, the common experience of being Plant’s QB has brought them closer.
Ely and Weiner visited the campuses of Illinois, Notre Dame and Purdue, where Marve now plays after transferring from Miami. With his former coach and eventual successor in town, Marve and his girlfriend joined Ely and Weiner for two hours of bowling in their West Lafayette, Ind., hotel before going out to dinner at a restaurant named Noodles.
As it turned out, that was only the beginning of their night.
“We ended up being there until 3 in the morning because Robert was just giving Phillip the most amazing dissertation on quarterback play and what it is to be a quarterback,” Weiner said. “Honestly, people would pay hundreds of dollars to hear that stuff. Phillip was just soaking it in and asking questions.
“For me, I’ve already taught all that, so I sat back, ate my pasta and just watched it. It was a beautiful thing.”
For all the knowledge Weiner can take credit for passing on to his quarterbacks at Plant -- or watching them teach each other, in that case -- there is one thing he said he had no part in. All three, he said, have reached a high level and continued to push themselves to learn more and improve their abilities.
“That’s something inherent in those three kids. I think that’s a true sign of greatness,” Weiner said. “You can get to a point where everybody looks in from the outside and says, ‘Wow, those are the three most amazing kids of all time, but they want more.’ That’s what drives them to be champions, and that’s what makes them leaders.”
Just as it did for Marve and Murray, that drive led Ely to a high-caliber Division-I scholarship offer. The senior will graduate from Plant early and enroll at Alabama in January, later joining the team for spring practice.
Ely faced plenty of doubters due to a sluggish start to his senior season, but he remains in good standing with Alabama’s coaching staff, including head coach Nick Saban and quarterbacks coach Jim McElwain.
“I’ll talk to them once or twice a week. I’ll talk to coach Mac, my quarterback coach there, and I’ll talk to coach Saban,” Ely said. “We’re actually going to try to get together soon, get him down here, so he can meet my family and stuff. That’s just cool. They’re always nice, asking me how the season’s going and stuff. They’re really supportive.”