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Life after the big game

By TIMES STAFF
Published March 23, 2007


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VIRGINIA PARK - It was a perfect night, capping a perfect season. On Dec. 9, 2006, the Plant High Panthers won a Class 4A state championship in football, finishing off a 15-0 season with a wild 25-21 victory over Ponte Vedra Beach Nease. For many of the players, it was the best experience of their young lives. But what happened when the confetti settled and the fall athletic season turned into winter, then spring? Three months after that magical night, we checked in with three Panthers to see what post-championship life is like.

Derek Winter

Junior

Wide receiver

Claim to fame: With 17 seconds left in the championship game, Winter caught a 4-yard pass from quarterback Robert Marve, putting the Panthers ahead by two points. He then completed a two-point conversion pass after a botched extra point attempt.

Highlight of the night: "I just remember walking off after the game and I was in total shock. Afterwards, I saw my face on TV and saw the expression on my face. I just looked stunned."

When he got home: "I went into my room and just laid on the bed. I was totally awake, not even feeling tired. I guess the adrenaline was still pumping. I finally fell asleep around 4:30."

Three months later: "I think a lot more people know me now. After (playoff) games, kids would come up and ask us for autographs and stuff like that.

I felt content with the accomplishment for about two weeks after. But when I started working out and going back to conditioning, I started thinking, 'Okay, now what am I going to do?' All the seniors get to go out on a high note. But I still have another season left."

Zack Midulla

Senior

Linebacker/ tight end

Claim to fame: One of the cornerstones of Plant's impenetrable defense, a major reason the Panthers were undefeated.

Highlight of the night: "After the game, seeing the faces of the guys from the other team and knowing that we beat them."

When he got home: "I went and hugged my mom and dad and said thank you. I woke up the next morning and thought, 'Wow, did that really happen?' I couldn't believe we had a perfect season my senior year."

Three months later: "People give us respect. A friend and I were in Clearwater Beach just last (Saturday) night and about five people came up to us and were asking us about our championship rings and stuff like that. It happens pretty much every day or whenever I'm wearing a Plant shirt, people will ask about it. It felt kind of weird at first, but then it was like, 'This is what I deserve. I worked hard for this.' "

 

Alex Townsend

Senior

Offensive lineman

Claim to fame: Leader of an offensive line that set the stage for its quarterback to finish the season with the state's all-time single-season records for yardage, touchdowns and completions.

Highlight of the night: "After the game, we all got on the bus and went to a big restaurant where all of our parents and family and close friends were waiting for us. It was a really big deal because up to that point, we were celebrating by ourselves, but when we got to the restaurant, we realized how important the support of the community was to us.

When we walked in, they cranked up that song by Queen, We Are the Champions. That sounds ridiculously corny, but it was really cool."

When he got home: "I pretty much just splashed some water on my face and hit the hay. I realized that I had the rest of my life to appreciate what we had accomplished. I thought, 'Tonight was fun, but I've got to go to sleep.' "

Three months later: "I work at a little ice cream shop on Davis Islands (Montalvo's, formerly Java and Cream) and I see kids 6, 7, 8 years old that want to grow up and play football at Plant. That's really neat. I think I see more Plant shirts than Bucs shirts around South Tampa."

[Last modified March 22, 2007, 07:57:09]


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