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Reaves ready to put Panthers in spotlight

The senior quarterback will get help from a sizeable offensive line and perhaps the best defense the team has had in years.

By EMILY NIPPS, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 6, 2002


The senior quarterback will get help from a sizeable offensive line and perhaps the best defense the team has had in years.

TAMPA -- Watching what teammate Mike Williams went through last year -- the recruiters, the accolades, the attention -- Plant quarterback Stephen Reaves can't believe it's happening to him.

So maybe he isn't touted as the best of the best, but he is expected be the county's best quarterback this season. The 6-foot-1 senior was listed as one of Florida's top 100 recruits by rivals.com, a recruiting Web site, and the Panthers are excited to have him as their leader.

But even growing up in a sports-crazy family, imagining being in the spotlight since he was a little boy, none of it was enough to prepare him for the recruiters, the accolades and the attention.

"It's mind-blowing," Reaves said. "I'm thinking, I can't believe these colleges are looking at me."

For a moment -- a full season, actually -- Reaves hopes to put his college dreams to sleep while he focuses on getting Plant to the playoffs. The Panthers went 5-5, and this season they want to be better than so-so.

"Our offense needs a leader, and Stephen Reaves is that leader," Plant coach Darlee Nelson said.

"I feel really good about this team, and Stephen is the starting point."

Reaves welcomes the responsibility.

"I've got three coaches always yelling at me on the sidelines," he said. "I like how the ball is always in my hands. If we win, I feel like it's because of me. And if we lose, I feel like it's my fault."

THROUGH THE AIR: There's no ambivalence here: Reaves is the No. 1 guy, and he is crucial to Plant's success. He is the top county quarterback of 2002, and spent the summer developing his accuracy. He has got his work cut out for him with the range of options he'll have at receiver: Quinton Williams, Graham Clark, Corey Brown and Tavaris Grant will all play roles.

ON THE GROUND: The key to the Panthers' ground game is its line, which returns as one of the largest in Panthers history.

The relatively young linemen lack the experience of last season's group, but are an eager bunch. They stick together on and off the field and are looking for the chance to reach their potential together.

Left guard Alex Maldonado spent much of last season injured, but should come back healthy and strong. Two-year starter Chris Allen brings his wisdom, and left tackle Chaz Weissing brings 280 pounds, though he has got a bit to learn.

DEFENSE: Nelson said the Panthers are "better defensively than ever," perhaps the best Plant defense he has coached. This is saying a lot for a guy who has been at the helm since 1998.

Senior linebacker Barrett Scruggs is expected to be one of the best in the county, and Tampa Catholic transfer Kyle Pupello brings strength to the middle. Cornerback Wayne Lawton and safety Eric Pelaez top the secondary, and Clark should also shine at safety..

THE BIG GAME: Jefferson, Sept. 27.

Like most of Jefferson's opponents, the Panthers can't wait to get their hands on the Dragons. It's the "ultimate task," according to Reaves, and it's a district game.

PLANT PANTHERS

AT A GLANCE

COACH: Darlee Nelson (fifth season, 18-23; 20th season overall, 108-93).

ASSISTANTS: Darryl Gordon, Allen Johnson, Michael McWilliams, John Rutledge and Al Smith.

COLORS: Black and gold.

STADIUM: Dads Stadium, 2415 S Himes Ave., Tampa.

CLASS: 4A, District 8.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: 1965, 1973, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1984, 1999.

LAST APPEARANCE: Lost to Clearwater 28-3.

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