TAMPA — As much as Plant’s 7-on-7 summer success has set the table for deep postseason runs the past few years, coach Robert Weiner will admit it’s not the tell-all indicator of his team’s strength.
“People always say it's not real football,” said Weiner, emphatically waving his hands, “but we’ve done pretty well in real football over the last few years.”
But during the sweltering shirt-and-shorts season of the summer, Weiner could tell what kind of weapon he’d have come fall in junior running back Wesley Bullock. He knew the touch tackle that stopped Bullock in 7-on-7 simply wouldn’t do once “real football” hit.
And as the Panthers (11-1) travel to East Lake (9-3) for tonight’s Class 8A region final, his prediction has come true. Bullock, who is generously listed at 5-foot-6, has become the Panthers’ top offensive weapon.
He may be short on size, but Bullock makes up for it with determination and power. He squats and dead lifts more than 500 pounds and benches 300-plus pounds. When that kind of power is complemented by 4.3 speed, it’s hard to beat.
“I always get underestimated,” Bullock said. “I look at that as motivation. Personally, I think it’s funny. Being undersized isn’t a bad thing to be.”
Bullock leads the Panthers with 1,280 total offensive yards (889 rushing, 391 receiving) and 12 total touchdowns. And like most of his Plant teammates, he’s getting better as the season progresses. Bullock is looking for his fifth straight 100-yard rushing game and is averaging 9.8 yards a carry. His 131-yard performance in last week’s win over Orlando Dr. Phillips is a career high.
“I think sometimes when you have a guy with so much talent like he does and is often overlooked simply because of his size, those kind of guys — in a positive way — feels like every single day they have something to prove,” Weiner said.
And this year, it’s obvious that Bullock is running with purpose. As a sophomore, he played behind five-star recruit and current Florida State freshman James Wilder Jr., a prototype of speed and strength.
“The way I look at it, speed kills,” Bullock said. “With James, they were scared of his size, but at the end of the day, it’s his speed that killed you. Playing behind him, I just tried to keep my head in the game and waited for my chance. I expect myself to do well. In my head, I can’t be stopped.”
Teams have had their difficulties stopping him. On a 76-yard touchdown run against Robinson, he took a handoff and burst between the tackles, cut left, spun to avoid three Knights tacklers, then cut across the field to outrun the rest of the defense. Along the way, he broke six arm tackles.
“There hasn’t been a team yet this year that on a really consistent basis has tackled Wesley on first contact,” Weiner said. “It just doesn’t happen. And that’s part talent and part will. And part perseverance of just playing with that chip on his shoulder to prove everyone wrong.
“It really is contagious and inspiring to the rest of the team when they look at somebody his size who is getting everything he possibly can from himself. His teammates have learned to believe that this is a guy who can take a team on his shoulders and take them to great places.”
And that place, Bullock hopes, is one step closer to a state title.
“Just like people can’t sleep on my size, we can’t sleep on other teams,” he said. “We know we are the top dog right now. We just need to suck that in and play Plant football.”