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PLANT PANTHERS // Plant aims for a return to glory

(ran TP edition)

As they carried venerable Plant coach Roland Acosta off the field on their shoulders after his final game last year, the players ushered in a new era.

Acosta, who retired after posting a 162-71 record in 22 seasons at Plant, was later replaced by one of his longtime assistants, Steve Coleman. He has adopted a hard-nosed, no-nonsense approach to reclaiming Plant's storied decades under his mentor.

"We have to get everybody in the school and in the community interested in Plant football again," said Coleman. "Winning will help."

The Panthers went 3-7 last year, an improvement over 1993's 1-9 mark, but a world away from their average of eight wins over the previous 20 seasons.

Coleman immediately introduced changes, beginning with stricter discipline.

"It's completely different from last year," said senior lineman Damon Pinion. "Coach Coleman has made everyone more focused than they used to be. Coach Acosta maybe let some guys get away with some things and that hurt the team."

The Panthers only return six starters from last year and probably won't challenge for a playoff spot in the realigned Class 5A, District 9, but based on the potential of several players, they could be a surprise.

Former defensive back Terry Hall takes over at quarterback, where he was a backup last year. At 6-1, 175 pounds, Hall has 4.6 speed and an inate ability to rally the team, his teammates said.

Under the run-based wing-T, talented senior backs Sean Bradley and Reggie McDaniel will carry the load. Sophomore Adam Schoenbaum (6-3, 225) is a returning starter on the offensive line and senior Clayton Bricklemyer can catch passes and kick field goals.

If the Panthers can grind out yardage and the clock, Coleman may improve his career head coaching record, which now stands at 5-45 after stints at East Bay and Bloomingdale.

Passing game: Hall's skills will permit the Panthers to throw more often than some teams that use the wing-T, but Coleman has no plans to retool Plant's running style.

When the Panthers do air it out, Bricklemyer will be the primary receiver. He was among the county's top 20 pass-catchers last year with 13 receptions for 194 yards. John Gonzalez has the physical attributes to succeed at tight end.

Running game: McDaniel is the featured running back in Plant's wing-T, though Hall will be allowed to freelance. A strong runner with 4.6 speed and who follows his blocks well, McDaniel rushed for 287 yards on 52 carries with one touchdown last year as a reserve.

Bradley is the starting fullback. Mickey Clark, Plant's biggest player at 6-3, 254 pounds, may also see action at fullback.

Offensive line: Pinion, who moves from center to guard, is Plant's most experienced lineman. Other returnees include Schoenbaum, a 6-3, 225-pound sophomore at tackle, and Nick Tanis, who moves to center. Paul Melikian is a junior transfer from Jesuit, who will start at the other guard..

Defensive line: It's Anderson bookends for the Panthers this season with returning starter Graham Anderson at one end and Justin Anderson at the other. Clark will play one tackle position. Chris Ganttmight get the call for the other.

Linebackers: Two returnees, Jason Rappaport at one middle spot and Matt Thompson on the strong side, were Plant's leading tacklers last season. But that leaves two positions unfilled in Plant's stack-4. Seniors David Jacobson and Jivaro Johnson could fill the void.

Defensive backs: The dilemma here is whether or not to insert Hall, a starter in the secondary last year. His speed would help, but at how much detriment to his quarterbacking duties?

Casey Hane has earned a starting job, but the other two spots were up for grabs, with Hall, Mario Davis, Damien Tramel and Kevin James possible starters.

Kicking game: Bricklemyer, the punter last season, will only attempt field goals this year. Ossie Hamrick, a senior, will be the punter and handle kickoffs. Coleman was still deciding on a return man the day before school began.

The coach: Coleman, 52, served in the military at MacDill Air Force Base as a radio operator, then was a Plant assistant under Acosta for five years beginning in the late 1970s before becoming head coach at East Bay for three seasons (3-27). He later started the program at Bloomingdale in 1987, experiencing a 16-game losing streak and finishing with a 2-18 record in two seasons. He returned to Plant as an assistant coach two years ago and will continue to teach job training courses.

Outlook: Coleman is a Plant insider and the players know and respect him. That should go a long way toward returning the program to its former prestige. Hall has the skills to keep the Panthers moving in the right direction, so there should not be a severe dropoff from 1994. But the redevelopment needs some more time under Coleman before Plant again becomes a playoff contender.

AT A GLANCE

Coach: Steve Coleman, first year (5-45 in his sixth season overall).

Assistant coaches: Alan Bell, Bernard Cannon, Brian Grantham, Bill Hardy, Alvin Jones, Tim McKeehen, Ed Owen, Ken Russell, Terry Russo, Ken Sweeney.

Colors: Black and gold.

Stadium: Dad's Stadium, 2415 S. Himes Ave., Tampa.

Class: 5A, District 9.

Playoff appearances: 1965; 1973; 1976; 1978; 1979; 1980; 1984.

Last playoff appearance: Class 4A _ Lost to Lakeland 19-0.

1994 results (3-7)

at Leto 28-0 L

Tampa Bay Tech 19-13 W

at Brandon 32-12 L

Robinson 18-7 W

at Hillsborough 49-18 L

Auburndale 35-14 L

at Armwood 21-19 W

Jefferson 35-14 L

at Kathleen 32-7 L

Jesuit 23-14 L

Glory Days

Roland Acosta presided over Plant's recent successes, including playoff appearances five times between 1973 and 1980, when the Panthers won at least one post-season game (two in 1976 and 1978) each year and made the state semifinals three times (1973, 1976 and 1978).

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