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Cotey: Plant hits restart under center with Ely

Plant’s new quarterback, Phillip Ely, has never started a varsity game. Oh, and he’s only replacing a state-record holder.

John c. cotey | Times

Plant’s new quarterback, Phillip Ely, has never started a varsity game. Oh, and he’s only replacing a state-record holder.

TAMPA — Robert Marve won a state championship and is now starting for the University of Miami.

Aaron Murray set a state record for touchdown passes and is headed to Georgia, after he gets off crutches.

Phillip Ely?

He's a 15-year-old sophomore.

He is 5 feet 10 and weighs 150 pounds.

He played everywhere from nose tackle to wide receiver to quarterback for the Seahawks in youth league football.

He's pretty good at math.

Doesn't play video games.

In his free time, he likes to golf with dad Bruce, a former Plant Panther.

He's never had a hole-in-one, but he did hole one out from 150 yards one time at TPC.

His sister is the school's cheerleading coach.

Oh, and he's the new starting quarterback at Plant High.

"Nothing's changed,'' Ely said. "Except now, there's a little more pressure on me.''

Most places, the starting quarterback goes down and the back-up slides in.

End of story.

Here, we wonder: Is the story just beginning?

Is Phillip Ely, who was 6-0 as a junior varsity starter last year but has yet to make a varsity start, the next big thing?

And is it even fair to ask? "There are going to be comparisons,'' said Murray, acknowledging that he and Marve have left some pretty oversized shoulder pads to strap on. "It will be hard for him. It was hard for me. I never imagined I could do what I did last year. But this is a system, we play as a team, and every position counts. If he has confidence in the guys surrounding him — and they have confidence in him — he's going to do well.''

If you're wondering if Ely can save the Plant season, he may already have, with a huge hand from a group of Panthers eager to make sure he did.

Thursday night, when Murray broke his ankle in the second quarter, Ely stepped in and threw for 172 yards in the second half to extend the lead against a very good Hillsborough team.

"That was huge,'' coach Bob Weiner said. "Huge. That was probably one of the most inspiring nights I've ever been involved with as a football coach.''

• • •

He spent the weekend watching film and hanging out. Did he think, for a second: Holy cow, I'm now the starting quarterback at Plant!

"Of course I did.''

He received text messages from well-wishers, including Murray:

Take it over.

Step up to the challenge.

Don't be afraid.

He was a bigger man on campus at school.

At Monday's practice, the first without Murray, Ely did not appear bothered by the new assignment. He did a quick cell phone interview, then answered a few questions in the shade beneath a tree.

"I'm ready,'' he said. "I know I have to step up, and I know guys like Orson Charles and the offensive line and the wide receiver crew has my back. This is what it's all about when you're the backup. You have to be ready to step up.''

• • •

Ely will guide the nationally ranked Panthers, the state's No. 2 team in Class 4A and a squad that has lost only to Armwood since the 2005 season.

He also inherits an offensive line that is getting bigger and better every day, a devastating group of wideouts led by Charles and Allen Sampson, and will be backed by a defense that is one of Hillsborough County's best.

"Phillip is surrounded by some great players, so he needs to know he doesn't have to carry us on his shoulders,'' Weiner said.

Still, Murray said he can't imagine being thrown into this position as a sophomore. He had a year to learn behind Marve, the whole spring and a summer's worth of seven-on-seven leagues before bursting onto the scene in 2007.

"I think Phillip will handle this better than I could have,'' he said.

Weiner is putting Ely on a nine-week inseason program — the ninth week being the state title game. The coach is conceding nothing when it comes to the rest of the season, even if he suspects others are.

He will pare the offense down, but not water it down.

He will find plays that suit Ely, and eliminate the ones that don't.

Mostly, though, he'd like Ely to just play football and not think about the legacies he is about to follow.

"All I want,'' said Weiner, "is for Phillip Ely to be Phillip Ely."

Cotey: Plant hits restart under center with Ely 10/21/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 23, 2008 6:49pm]
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