Coach: Robert Weiner (11th season, 112-21)
Last season: 10-2
Colors: Black and gold
Stadium: Dads Stadium, 2415 S. Himes Ave., Tampa
Playoff history: 1965, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1999, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
Last appearance: Beat Orlando Boone 42-3; beat Orlando Dr. Phillips 24-23; beat Fort Pierce Central 17-7; lost 45-29 to Apopka.
State titles: 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011
Aug. 29 at Lowndes (Ga.), 7:30
Sept. 5 vs. Robinson, 7:30
Sept. 12 vs. Gaither, 7:30
Sept. 19 at Bloomingdale, 7:30
Sept. 26 vs. Tampa Bay Tech, 7:30
Oct. 2 vs. Riverview, 7
Oct. 10 at Sickles, 7:30
Oct. 17 at Newsome, 7:30
Oct. 24 vs. Wharton, 7:30
Oct. 31 vs. Alonso, 7:30
Mark your calendar
Plant vs. Armwood, Aug. 22: The outcome of Friday’s preseason game between these state title contenders technically doesn’t mean a thing, but for a Plant team that has been plagued by rocky beginnings in each of thepast two seasons, it’s a chance for the Panthers to start things off on the right foot. There are a few unknowns for Plant, which returns just five starters on each side of the ball and will start junior quarterback Rex Culpepper, who has minimal varsity snaps under his belt. So in addition to being a matchup of arguably Tampa Bay’s two best teams, it’ll be a test to see how prepared the young Panthers truly are.
Gym rats: The Panthers have always devoted much of their preparation time to the weight room, but in the offseason, coach Robert Weiner installed a new, more intense workout plan that challenged his players. The Panthers spent at least an hour in the weight room four days a week working on the different exercises in three-man groups. “We took a 45- or 60-minute workout time frame and turned it into something that milked everything out of every single one of those moments,” Weiner said.
Something to prove? Plant appeared in state championship games from 2008-2011, winning titles three of those four years. But since then, the Panthers have fallen short of their final goal. Could this again be their year? Though Weiner said he doesn’t feel any pressure to live up to other people’s expectations, he knows it’s there. “Many people look at it as, ‘Oh, Plant had a down year (last year),’” he said. “We had a down year and we still went to the state semifinals.”
Rookie Rex: Plant will start junior quarterback Rex Culpepper, son of former Buc Brad Culpepper. And though the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Panther has more than 10 Division I offers — including ones from Florida, Miami and Ohio State — he is a relative rookie. Despite his inexperience, Weiner said Culpepper has gone above and beyond in his preparations to take over a role that has been filled by several future Division I athletes.
Beginning with a bang: Plant’s first two games — a preseason matchup with Armwood and a road trip to Lowndes (Ga.) — will likely both draw several thousand spectators, Weiner said. The Panthers, though, have no time for stage fright. Both opponents will test whether the Panthers have the chops to make it all the way.
Missing Buda: The fact that Alex “Buda” Jackson led Plant offensively last season is an understatement. Jackson, whose passion for the game was palpable, finished the year with 711 rushing yards and five touchdowns, while adding 488 yards receiving and seven touchdowns through the air. When the Georgia Military College signee moved on, he left a big hole. “We always felt like if we had Buda, we always had a chance to be in the game,” Weiner said. “The question is, at least in attitude, who does that become?”
OL Jake Fruhmorgen, Sr.: The Panthers lost a pair of Division I offensive linemen from last season, but Fruhmorgen, a four-star Clemson commit, is back to anchor a line that has a lot to live up to.
DL Kyle Henderson, Sr.: The leading returning tackler, Henderson had 67 tackles, 19 for loss, five sacks and two fumble recoveries last season. But as a leader on a rebuilding defense, the Georgia Tech commit could be good for a whole lot more in 2014.
RB Patrick Brooks, Sr.: Though his skill set is a little different from Jackson’s, Brooks is Buda’s best replacement. The 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back rushed for 927 yards and seven touchdowns last season while adding 223 yards receiving and two touchdowns receptions. There’s no doubt Brooks has what it takes to be a 1,000-yard rusher this go around.
WR Jordan Reed, Sr.: Reed led the Panthers with 613 yards receiving and four touchdowns last season while starring on special teams, racking up 223 kick return and 109 punt return yards.
DB Derrick Baity, Sr.: After losing current Division I defensive backs Austin Hudson (Wisconsin), Mazzi Wilkins (USF) and Bernard Rogers (Toledo), the secondary might be the Panthers’ biggest question mark. Baity, who has moved from cornerback to safety this year, will help hold it together. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound athlete had 40 tackles and three interceptions in 2013.
QB Rex Culpepper, Jr.: This is Culpepper’s third year on the varsity roster, but the new starting quarterback has only 14 pass completions for 127 yards, one touchdown and an interception as backup quarterback in 2013. Time will tell if Culpepper has what it takes to be the next in a line of great Panther quarterbacks, but after watching him in the offseason, Weiner has a hunch he could be.
RB/LB Tykese Keaton-Baldwin, Jr.: Keaton-Baldwin played on both sides of the ball last year, finishing with 115 yards receiving and 38 tackles. This season he could have a breakout year, especially on the defensive side, where he’ll be helping to fill the hole left by now Texas linebacker Andrew Beck.
WR Clarke Miller, Sr.: Miller spent some time as wide receiver last season, finishing with 207 yards and three touchdowns, while also converting 21 of 22 PATs and six of eight field goals. This season, though, Weiner expects the versatile player to have much more of a spotlight role at wide receiver.
WR Luke McFadden, Sr.: McFadden made some big plays last year, recording 101 yards and one touchdown on five receptions. Like Miller, Weiner expects the 6-foot-2, 175-pound Panther to be a featured receiver in 2014.
C Ronald “Chalupe” Christian: The 6-foot, 275-pound center has big shoes to fill, replacing last year’s starter and Princeton signee Richard Bush. But like Bush, Weiner said Christian enjoys the mental side of the game and has done well learning the complicated game plan Weiner has in store for the preseason game against the Hawks.
“I have four state championship rings in the safety deposit box. I can go put a fifth one in there and that’s fine. But I know what it feels like to win one, and I want them to win one. I want them to experience it.” — Weiner