State of the Maroon-ion: Plano 7-on-7 keying on chemistry in latest trip to College Station
For several 7-on-7 teams, the past two months have been building toward Friday in College Station for the Division I FOX Sports Southwest 7-on-7 State Tournament.
In the case of Plano Senior, that timetable was practically chopped in half with inclement weather postponing the Wildcats' first actual taste of 7-on-7 action until mid-June.
It's required Plano to get up to speed with the rest of the 7-on-7 climate, but the team is still in a good spot with the trip to College Station on the horizon.
"We've just been trying to make sure everybody is on the same page," said Tank Stallings, Plano 7-on-7 head coach. "We're ready to roll."
The Wildcats assured themselves a trip to state -- the team's eighth consecutive -- by emerging as one of the two finalists at the Rockwall SQT on June 23 where they dispatched of Garland Naaman Forest (59-18), McKinney (48-33), Richardson Berkner (47-12) and Rockwall B (62-0).
The remainder of the team's 7-on-7 schedule included a 1-2 run at the Wylie SQT on June 15, an appearance in the Red Bull Game Breakers Dallas qualifier on June 29 and a smattering of weekly league games -- the most recent of which was a 45-12 victory over Irving Nimitz.
"The offense has been consistent all season long," Stallings said. "They've been gelling great, so we really feel good about things there. The defense has steadily gotten better throughout the summer, so hopefully we can put it all together for state and make a good run at it."
The tandem of quarterback Richard Lagow and receiver Anthony Antwine has been prominently featured for the Wildcats, with steady contributions chipped in along the way by Corbin Whitehair, Devon Richardson, Tanner Garfat and Dalton Reeves.
"Corbin Whitehair is our little slot receiver," Stallings said. "He gets the ball rolling a lot of times and gets the offense moving. He's made some big-time catches for us."
Reigning District 8-5A Defensive Newcomer of the Year David Griffith has been tasked with leading that unit, aided on the leadership front by Austin Connell and on the performance front by Brian Hanks.
"Brian Hanks has done a really good job for us," Stallings said. "He was on varsity with us last summer and did a good job, but this summer he's really taken that next step and become more of a complete player for us."
With the majority of the squad still getting acclimated to the varsity level, Friday represents the latest test in that meshing process.
In College Station, Plano is slotted in Pool D alongside Harlingen, Georgetown and Cypress Creek. None of those opponents qualified for state last summer, with Cy Creek and Georgetown last making appearances in 2010.
The vast cross-section of opponents has left the Wildcats with a manner of uncertainty on each team's stylistic strengths and weaknesses, with Stallings having only seen Georgetown (3 p.m. Friday) at the Red Bull Game Breakers Finals in a semifinal loss to eventual tournament winner Tyler John Tyler.
"[Georgetown] is going to be a good opponent," he said. "They've got some size and some good speed, so we'll have our hands full with those guys. I know they've been playing a lot of ball this summer."
The Wildcats will be operating on a clean slate in regards to game-planning for Harlingen (1 p.m.) and Cy Creek (5 p.m.).
"That's the fun thing about going down to state," Stallings said. "You don't know what you're going to get because you haven't seen these guys all summer. It forces you to make moves on the fly, so to speak."
Historically, pool play has been on the Wildcats' side with the team having qualified for the Championship Bracket five straight years. During that spurt, the team's deepest run came in 2008 when Plano advanced to the quarterfinals.
Stallings is emphasizing Friday and Saturday as a chance to further team chemistry and use the tournament as a springboard for the fall and the bigger picture.
"We're going to try our best," he said. "I can't guarantee wins or losses, just that we're going to go out and play Plano Wildcat football, and that we'll have effort and discipline the way the Wildcats do it."