To preview the 2014 high school football season, The Tampa Tribune is counting down the top 10 teams in Hillsborough County. These preseason rankings were voted on by Tribune writers Scott Purks and Nick Williams, high school sports editor Doug Jacobs and correspondent Jarrett Guthrie.
TAMPA — The expectation is much the same every year at Plant: Win a state title.
Anything less almost always feels like a disappointment (see last year’s state semifinal finish).
“It’s the kind of culture that we’ve cultivated,” said Plant coach Robert Weiner, who has led the Panthers to four state titles since 2006. “We make no apologies for it, but it is a fact that our goal every year is to win a state championship.”
This year, that possibility is very real, though it will be far from easy coming from a stacked Class 8A division that includes the likes of defending state champion Homestead South Dade, runner-up Apopka, Bradenton Manatee, Orlando Dr. Phillips, Fort Pierce Central and Coral Gables.
There also are some team elements that need to fall into place, including a strong performance from Panthers junior Rex Culpepper, the latest in a long list of successful Plant quarterbacks.
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Culpepper, son of former NFL defensive lineman Brad Culpepper, certainly looks the part. The question is how he’ll perform in regular-season action, because his first official start will be Aug. 29 in Valdosta, Ga. against Lowndes High.
The good news for him is that he’ll have plenty of talent around him, including senior running back Patrick Brooks (927 yards, seven touchdowns in 2013), receiver Jordan Reed (49 catches, 613 yards in 2013) and offensive lineman Jake Fruhmorgen, who has committed to Clemson.
“I have total faith in (Culpepper),” Weiner said. “He has the potential for so much.”
Defensively, the Panthers look solid up front with defensive tackle Kyle Henderson (Georgia Tech commit) and defensive end Raeder Frantzen (Florida Atlantic commit).
The linebackers are relatively inexperienced, with juniors Tykese Keaton-Baldwin, Michael Murphy and Brendan Butler, but they are athletic and quick.
Behind the linebackers is a strong group, led by cornerback Derrick Baity and safety Johayward “Scoop” Bradshaw.
Overall, Plant again looks like, well, Plant, which translates to very few weaknesses and a great deal of confidence.
“We are so excited about this team because there is such a great mix of young talent and strong leadership,” Weiner said. “There is great energy around here.”
Aug. 22 vs. Armwood
Aug. 29 at Lowndes (Valdosta, Ga.)