TAMPA — Forget evading tackles, Phillip Ely wants to dodge the burden of history.
At high noon most days, Plant's rising junior quarterback steps onto a field under the intensity of the summer sun and practices his footwork. It's the same swath of grass where former quarterbacks Robert Marve and Aaron Murray tinkered with their mechanics before landing at Purdue and Georgia, respectively.
At home, Ely is reminded of the legacy set by his father, Bruce Ely, and his five brothers — all former Panthers. In 1969, Bruce booted the winning field goal in a 3-0 win over rival Hillsborough on grass slick with rain.
Like it or not, Ely's success the next two years will be measured against those trying to help him succeed.
"That's another pressure I have," Ely said with a smile. "It really doesn't get to me, it pushes me."
Ely has worked tirelessly for months to improve his strength, mechanics and knowledge of Plant's offense. But his ability to ignore the obvious shadows cast by his predecessors might be his greatest asset.
That's his best shot at replacing two quarterbacks who achieved national prominence, numerous accolades and earned a state title.
"I'm going to be my own player," Ely said. "They were both spectacular players. I can't compare myself to them because I'm not there yet."
Ely stepped into a pressure situation last year when Murray broke his leg and was believed to be out for the season. Before Murray returned for the state title victory, Ely threw for 1,616 yards and 17 touchdowns in eight games.
It began in relief of Murray against Hillsborough when Ely threw for 172 yards, a touchdown and an interception in a 42-28 win. Then he completed his first 14 passes in a 300-yard passing effort in a 27-13 win over Chamberlain.
"He has a personality of obliviousness to all this rubble around him," Plant coach Robert Weiner said. "He just goes and does his thing."
On Wednesdays at Gaither, Ely guides Plant's offense through a seven-on-seven league with poise, precision and a leadership quality. He has gained 20 pounds (he weighs 170), grown an inch or two (he's 5-11) and clearly benefited from the games he played as a sophomore.
Ely also gets help and advice from Murray and Marve. He has spent a lot of time recently breaking down film with Marve — when they're not talking about girls, Ely said.
Weiner said Ely has handled the situation well.
"I told him from the get-go …it's time for Phillip now," Weiner said. "We don't want the next Robert or the next Aaron. I want the first Phillip Ely. He really buys into that."
Izzy Gould can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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