The Plano Senior football team wasted no time hitting the ground running for spring practices last month.
Although that meant concluding festivities a couple weeks earlier than usual – the team’s final scrimmage took place May 2 – head coach Jaydon McCullough and the Wildcats made use of every practice day afforded by the UIL, using that time to evaluate positional voids, mold leadership roles and lay the foundation for the program’s 2019 campaign.
“We’ve still got a few unanswered questions, but these kids are hard-working, serious about football and are coachable,” McCullough said. “I feel like we did a good job of getting everything installed, and at this point, we’re excited with where we’re at.
“We’re not at the mountaintop, but it’s been a good start to the climb.”
With each offseason comes an entirely new batch of personnel queries, and although some areas in the Wildcats’ arsenal were hit harder by graduation than others, Plano doesn’t figure to be lacking experience at a series of skill positions. Although last season marked the final time running back Kyron Cumby will don the maroon and white, now bound for the college gridiron at Illinois, Plano’s rushing attack should remain formidable behind senior Cody Crist and junior Tylan Hines, the latter earning District 9-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year last season.
McCullough added that senior CJ Perry also turned in a productive spring out of the backfield.
“[Perry] really came on this spring,” he said. “Between his character and work ethic, he really grew a lot.”
Seniors Jayden Chambers and Umar Aruna bring experience to the receiving corps – with senior Nolan Williams expected to contribute both as a pass-catcher and in the secondary – and, like last year, Plano is expected to deploy its running backs as slot receivers on occasion.
And although 2019 will mark the seventh consecutive year that Plano begins the season with a new starting quarterback, that streak will likely soon halt with junior Oliver Towns in line to take over duties under center after backing up alum Cole Winnett last season. Towns was hardly a bystander as a sophomore, however, attempting nearly 50 passes and totaling four touchdowns.
“[Towns is] growing. He’s a smart and high-character kids and a great leader,” McCullough said. “We feel like he’s going to be able to disperse the ball and do some things we haven’t been able to do in a while.”
Meanwhile, although overall returning experience on the defensive side of the ball is low, Plano does have veterans in Williams and senior safety Isaiah Calhoun back to help commandeer the secondary alongside senior cornerbacks Levi Shaw and Trey Ford, with Crist also expected to see time at safety as a two-way contributor.
Senior Nate Jones will helm the defensive line, lining up opposite senior Jacob Rusk as the two most tenured linemen on the Plano roster. Elsewhere, the Wildcats entered the spring with plenty of holes to plug in the trenches with the majority of those units now graduated. Some of the names in the mix on the offensive line this spring included junior Jalyn Brown, junior Aaron Juniper, senior Jalen Anderson and sophomore Sullivan Burns, with sophomore David Smith, junior Kedrick Wooten and senior Victor Solano seeing time on the defensive front. The offense also has the luxury of one of the area’s most experienced tight ends, with senior Christian Sabbatini entering his third year as a starter and sporting one of the more versatile skill sets of any player on Plano’s roster.
“[Sabbatini] is a dynamic difference maker,” McCullough said. “He’s a Y, he’s a tight end, he’s an H-back. He can play on the line, off the line, in the backfield or in the slot. He’s like a Swiss army knife.”
McCullough noted that with so many starters lost to graduation, personnel evaluations will last through the summer and even into the non-district portion of the regular season, with Plano afforded a scrimmage Aug. 23 against Mesquite followed by outings against Hebron, El Paso Eastwood and Rowlett to tune up for the 9-6A opener Sept. 20 against perennial juggernaut Allen.
“We’re excited. We feel like we have a chance to have a good team. We’ve got some really good guys and a few spots to fill, but we’re working on it,” McCullough said. “We had our exit meetings and those were very positive. We gave the kids some really good feedback and they gave us some as well. We feel good about where we’re at going into the summer."