This spring reminds Plant coach Robert Weiner of the days before all the national exposure, out-of-state games and state championship runs. When Weiner watches his team this year, he's brought back to May 2005, when the program's promise was becoming evident. Players like Robert Marve, Lovell Jackson and Cornelius Gallon were just beginning to fulfill their promise. "It's a lot like that year," Weiner said. "I think the difference is that this year we actually have more of those guys."
Granted the Panthers have huge holes to fill from a team that fell one win short of claiming its fourth state title in five years - most notably replacing RB/DE/LB James Wilder Jr. (FSU) and quarterback Phillip Ely (Alabama).
WR Austin Aikens, WR/DB Antonio Crawford and OT Nathan Shienle are already garnering Division I-A offers, and S Drew Madhu, DE Michael Dvornik, and WRs Daniel Casselli and Mike Tate are also expected to garner interest.
In rebuilding the running game, watch for the combination of Wesley Bullock and Paris Bostick. The diminutive Bullock (5-foot-7, 155) has speed and deceptive power - he can squat and dead lift 500 pounds and runs a sub-4.5 40 - while the 6-1, 215-pound Bostick possesses vast talent and reminds fans a little bit of Wilder. LB Tate Rogers will also play a role on offense as ahalfback.
"We're incredibly excited because we feel like we have a tremendous group of senior leaders who most importantly understand what we're all about philosophically as a football program and as people," Weiner said. "I think we've infused that with young, inexperienced talent, and that's a very exciting combination."
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Since Weiner took over at Plant, he has gone into the spring knowing whom his starting quarterback would be, from Marve to Aaron Murray to Ely.
Not this spring. Weiner said any of five candidates could win the job. The focus is to narrow the numberto two by the end of spring practice.
"That's really the million-dollar question," Weiner said. "We're really high on all of them. It's really going to be a lot tougher than I anticipated it would be."
Here's a look at the five candidates to become the Panthers' next starting QB (years are what they will be in the fall):
James Few, Sr.: If experience matters, Few would be the favorite. He played in six games as a sophomore when Ely was hurt but last season made the transition to safety, where he made 33 tackles. Few has been fighting an abdominal strain this spring.
Trey Holtz, Sr.: The son of USF coach Skip Holtz (and grandson of Lou Holtz) is one of the squad's hardest workers and understandably has a high football IQ. Before moving to Tampa, he ran an option offense in North Carolina, so he can also run.
Kyle Groh, Jr.: Weiner really likes his arm, and he has already proven to be a leader. He quarterbacked Plant's undefeated JV team last fall.
Aaron Banks, Jr.: More of a dual-threat quarterback, Banks is a fleet-footed athlete with strong running instincts.
J.T. Faircloth, So.: The youngest of the bunch faces the toughest climb for snaps, but he's a talent that coaches are very high on.
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Jamboree site change
The spring jamborees scheduled at Steinbrenner on May 20 (Steinbrenner vs. Alonso, Sickles vs. Gaither) have been moved to Gaither due to unplayable field conditions, the school district athletic department announced Thursday.
Steinbrenner coach Floyd Graham said he initiated the change after fearing the Warriors' home field was unsafe for next week.
"There's nothing specifically wrong with the field," Graham said. "There's just a lot of wear. It's pretty much bare between the 30s between the hashes."
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What they're saying
Every day, we pose a question to our readers on our Facebook page. They're keen to offer their two cents ... and we're printing the best response.
Wednesday's question: Hillsborough's spring games/jamborees are May 20, while the North Suncoast and Pinellas play most of their games the following week. Which game are you most looking forward to?
- Lakeland at Lakewood. The 'Wood is much improved and the entire Tampa area is sleeping on those boys! - Bo Marthaller
- I love the Anclote-Gulf rivalry - I mean I'm the QB at Gulf - ... but you gotta go with Plant City-Armwood. Full of Division I talent on game night, never mind the college atmosphere. - Ty'Shon Peters
Next up: Which area kicker/punter's fantastic foot should be insured for a hefty sum?
What's your call? Go to facebook.com/pages/HomeTeam-by-tampabaycom/145729801992, become a fan and give us your thoughts.