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Cotey: Plant senior quintet pile on the hardware

ORLANDO — DeAndre Queen had no idea who coach Robert Weiner was when he came to Plant High.

But he wasn't sure he liked him.

Every day in practice, Queen had to take on one of the team's biggest, hardest hitters. Every day he got beaten up. That was the price of making varsity as a freshman.

Sometimes it even made him cry.

It's not the last time football has made him cry, but now when he does, it's with a gold medal around his neck.

Friday night — as mist fell from the sky and a good many eyes of the Plant Panthers, the Class 5A state champions after a harrowing 21-14 win over Bradenton Manatee — the affable, quick-talking Queen stood at midfield and struggled for words.

So did Josh Varon, like Queen — and Andre Mondor and Mike Mirabella — a four-year varsity player with three gold medals.

"Awesome," Varon said. "What else can you say?"

Like Queen, Varon was a wide-eyed freshman with no idea what he was walking into.

"Plant was 3-7 when I got here. Plant was nothing back then."

Now it is something.

It may be the best football program in the state.

It will likely open next season nationally ranked for the first time.

It is, well, awesome.

"Maybe one, maybe we could win one (state championship)," Varon said. "Three? Three?"

Three.

Had you told Javonte Martin, another of the five seniors with a trio of gold medals, that as a freshman he would be part of history, that he would be a big part of the creation of what would become the state's fastest-rising program, he would have begged you to stop.

"I would have said, 'Man, look here, don't play with my emotions like that. Don't play with me. I'm just a little freshman. Don't mess with my mind.' "

Instead, Weiner and his most excellent coaching staff simply blew Martin's mind.

Four seasons.

Three state championships.

This one is the most impressive of the lot, because when the season started, the Panthers were written off.

Oh, they were going to make the playoffs and win a few postseason games. But moving up from Class 4A, where they won the 2008 title, to Class 5A meant having to beat Lakeland and possibly Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, only the most successful football factories in the state.

And after giving up 49 points and losing to Manatee in a preseason game, then Tampa Bay Tech in the season opener when they blew a 24-point lead, well, folks added those teams to the list of squads Plant probably wouldn't get past in the postseason.

The Panthers, who Friday played about the best first half a team could in a game this big, had to sweat this one out.

Manatee made a 21-0 game a 21-14 nail-biter. It had two chances to win and failed both times. In the final 90 seconds, it threw four passes and missed on them all.

Martin said those final seconds reminded him of the 78-yard drive engineered by quarterback Robert Marve in 2006 to give Plant its first title.

"We weren't nervous," he said. "It was like it was at the beginning of this. It's something we had to do, or we lose. We don't like to lose that last game."

Queen, Martin, Mondor, Mirabella and Varon did that only once.

In four seasons.

Awesome.

"I'm part of a good legacy here, man," Queen said. "We're going to write a book about this, man."

And so far, the chapters they've written have been outstanding.

Cotey: Plant senior quintet pile on the hardware 12/18/09 [Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2009 11:33pm]

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