TAMPA — The growing legacy of Plant quarterbacks — a Division I-A roll call of stars that began with Robert Marve and continued with Aaron Murray, then Phillip Ely — leaves few positions in the Tampa Bay area that cast a larger spotlight.
But neither of the two quarterbacks that Plant coach Robert Weiner will use in tonight’s regular-season opener against Jesuit started this time last year.
Weiner is not a two-quarterback guy. He’s never had to be one with the signal callers he’s had. He doesn’t like the idea of his offensive leader looking over his shoulder instead of toward the end zone.
As the Panthers enter arguably the most-hyped season opener since Plant and Armwood clashed on ESPN in 2008, Weiner will hand the reins of the offense to senior James Few and junior Aaron Banks, who arrived at this point in very different ways.
“In the best of all worlds, would one of them have completely separated from the other?” Weiner said. “That would be completely ideal.
But I’m not going to make a toss-of-the-coin decision when I have two guys who have some talent. Maybe that does happen somewhere down the road.”
For Few, the oldest son of Plant co-defensive coordinator John Few, tonight’s game represents plenty. Like Weiner, John Few is a former Jesuit assistant, and James grew up wearing the Tigers’ colors. When he was four days old, his first outing was to a Jesuit football game.
“I’ve been born and raised a Jesuit Tiger,” James said. “And now the last seven years it’s been Plant, Plant, Plant. We actually have a photo of me, my dad and my brother all wearing Jesuit stuff. I was 5 years old. Coach Weiner actually took the photo.”
Few’s introduction to Plant football was an abrupt one. As a sophomore, he was told five minutes before the 2009 opener against Tampa Bay Tech that he would have to replace an injured Ely. After Ely’s return two weeks into the season, he played sparingly. Last year, he spent the entire season as the Panthers’ starting free safety.
Then there’s Banks, who this time last year was playing travel soccer. He played spring football at Plant his freshman year, but couldn’t commit to it in the fall. He returned this past spring and this time gave up soccer to focus on football.
“I decided that I missed football,” Banks said. “It’s something I have a lot of fun with. I started out not knowing a lot but during the summer I picked things up at a very fast pace. I have a far way to go, but I feel like I have a good base to build off of.”
In last week’s 35-7 preseason loss to Miami Columbus, Few and Banks split snaps evenly. And while people are quick to peg Few as the drop-back passer and Banks as the mobile threat, Weiner refused to pigeon-hole them.
“People want to distinguish between them but to be honest, you’re talking about a very small variance in degree of what they can do,” Weiner said.
Make no mistake, Banks is fleet-footed. He said playing defense in soccer helps him to always keep his head up and look downfield. But Weiner admits that Few’s experience gives him more comfort with a certain set of plays.
“It will be a work in progress, and we’ll have some setbacks,” Weiner said. “We did some good things and not so good things (against Columbus), but they’re both early in their learning curves. For us, the trigger man is so important. He’s got to be the ring leader.”
So can Plant get back to the state title game with a two-headed quarterback?
“There’s no question in my mind,” Weiner said without hesitation. “We can be in the same boat with either of them or with both of them.”