Loaded. That is the word that comes to mind when thinking about the Plant City Raiders for the 2011 football season. Even though they lost some very talented players to graduation, including star lineman Jordan Prestwood, two of their top tacklers, and the top three sack leaders, they return a team full of Division 1 talent and are filling holes quickly.
It is not surprise to those who have been at camps and combines during the spring to hear that Plant City is so talented. They often brought a slew of players, with the count at one combine being 43.
Spring has not been kind however in some ways as injuries have hampered some of their best players. Quarterback Bennie Coney will sit out the rest of spring with an ankle sprain, leaving Nick Rodriguezin charge. Rodriguez, who is 6'1" 170, throws a pretty ball, but he does not have the arm strength of Coney and timing with receivers is an issue. He could use some more weight too as he is slender, but as part of the 2013 class, he has a full year to develop behind Coney before the team is his. The other significant injury is to Jalen Butler, who also hurt his ankle. Butler is a tall, athletic linebacker at 6'3" 200. He has good speed sideline to sideline and makes big plays, but needs to add some weight to his long frame to help take on blockers. He will be some tight end and defensive end as well as linebacker this season, but he will most likely be a linebacker at the next level. They are hoping he will be ready for the spring game.
The offense next year for the Raiders should be fun to watch. Focus right now is on developing as a quick tempo, spread offense which plays to their strengths, having so many talented skill position weapons. Lamarlin Wiggings is a big target at wide receiver measuring 6'3" 190. He has great hands and plays physical. While he is not an elite speed type receiver, he still has the speed to get deep and make big plays. Antwon Armstrong is playing both sides of the ball and looks good at receiver. He has very good speed and moves to beat opposing defenders, which comes from playing DB himself. Dazmond Patterson has been a tremendous performer this spring in the combine circuit, winning two MVP awards. At 5'6" 175, he is a small, but powerful running back. He has everything you want: speed, agility, very good hands, great vision, fierce competitor, and tremendous leader. He excels at making people miss and getting in space, where he makes big plays. Unfortunately, he has to battle his height, which is causing him to be overlooked on the recruiting scene.
The biggest struggle on offense right now is the offensive line. There were a lot of guys rotating and some played very well. All in all, it is a shorter line without Prestwood. One standout however was freshman Quincy Robinson. At 6'4" 220 he already shows a good understanding of the position and has good footwork. He needs to add size and work on the use of his hands, but he should develop into a solid prospect at offensive tackle or guard with three years to develop.
On the defensive side, the talent level continues. Defensive lineman Jose Guerrero had a solid day. At 6'2" 230, he needs more size to stay on the line in a 4-3, but he is strong and hard to block due to his quickness. He could do well as a hybrid in a 3-4 where he can play down or up. Sam Green is another tremendous player who plays safety and is building a great list of offers. At 6'1" 200, he has good hips, speed, and plays very physical. His home is at safety, but he could be a very good hybrid player at the next level with so many teams utilizing positions like the spur and bandit. Antwon Armstrong fills the other safety spot and is also playing some at the cornerback position and has the speed to play both. At 6'1" 175, Armstrong runs in the 4.5 range and has great change of direction. Combine that with a nose for the ball and great ball handling ability and it is no wonder why so many schools are checking him out.
Plant City will play Armwood for their spring game tomorrow night, May 20th, in a half game contest at Strawberry Crest High School. It will be a true test to see how conditioning and spring drills and practice have paid off. Armwood has a team full of Division 1 talent as well. Bennie Coney said last year Plant City's team was not as well conditioned as Armwood, but this year they are and hope to put up a fight.
Head coach Wayne Ward had the same mindset.
"We are going to hit them in the mouth and fight hard," Coach Wayne Ward said. "We have the talent to win and will give them a run."
One thing is for certain, there will be a lot of super talented players on the field between the two teams. Add to that that a lot of colleges are awaiting film of the game from a number of Plant City players, and you have a big time game.