Plano East’s Daniel Fayombo has always dreamed of being a star football player.
Until recently, those dreams were not meant to be a reality.
An unorthodox path to the starting running back spot for Plano East, and one of the area’s top rushers, has turned a lot of heads to start the season.
The journey has made him one of the most surprising stories for a Panther football team full of its own surprises. They’re 3-0 to start the regular season, their best start for the program since 2018.
His development in his first year ever playing high school football could also be the secret to Plano East potentially reaching the playoffs in 2022.
Fayombo and his family moved to North Texas from Liberia 18 years ago. While he played football when he was younger, he stopped playing after his brother got hurt, his parents worried for his health and safety. Since then, Fayombo was eager to try and get back into the game.
“I’ve been trying to come back to playing football for a while now and my opportunity is here,” Fayombo said. “It’s always been my goal to play and now this is a great chance and we’re winning games.”
During his first three years in the Plano East program, he didn’t play a sport. In gym class last season, running backs coach Patrick Handy noticed a kid who could dunk and was a better athlete than almost anyone else out there. When head coach Tony Benedetto took over the program in the spring, it was brought to his attention of a potential diamond in the rough.
“It’s a once-in-a-career type of story,” Benedetto said. “He’s in PE class, and coach Handy is his teacher who tells me he’s dunking and squatting 300 pounds when he’s never lifted before. After telling me his family wouldn’t allow him to play, he would hang out and watch us practice. I finally asked him what it would take to allow him to play, and he was able to convince his family to play and he joined the team in late February.”
It wasn’t exactly perfect from there. Having not played the sport for almost seven years, Fayombo found out the varsity game was much different from his early experience and he had a crash course during spring ball to prepare for his one chance to make the team.
“It was like two completely different worlds at first,” Fayombo said. “I hadn’t played football for so long, so I had to get used to getting hit and then focus on getting better every day.”
Benedetto said it was nearly starting from scratch, but that the talent was undeniable.
“The first day he had a couple of passes bounce off his facemask and we had to teach him how to put a helmet on,” Benedetto said. “You could not know now that he was new to the sport. He had to slow down and think through the game more, but he works hard. He didn’t miss a workout all offseason.”
The start of his career has been eye-opening for many outside the Plano East program. Fayombo is currently seventh in area 6A teams with 579 yards rushing and six touchdowns in just three games.
Late in their close win over Rock Hill on Sept. 9, Fayombo bounced a run to the outside and hurdled a defender for a first down. The play showcased the athleticism that makes him a special talent.
“My coaches and teammates made it very easy for me,” Fayombo said. “They slowed the game down for me a lot and helped me along the way. When I needed help the team was always there for me.”
The next step for Fayombo is more repetitions.
Despite already stepping onto the scene as one of the top players in the area, he still feels like there’s room for improvement before the end of the season. Part of the agreement with his family to play football was the chance to earn a college scholarship and that’s the start of his personal goals for the year.
“As a football player, I’m not satisfied where I want to be,” Fayombo said. “We have a full season to get better and develop and the goal is to help my team win games and reach the next level.”
Benedetto reiterated that sentiment, stating that he believes the sky is the limit for the talented back.
As Plano East gears up for district play next, the goal is to lighten his workload with the return of key offensive pieces and keep him fresh for the final stretch of the season when the team will need him most.
“I don’t think he’s running full speed yet,” Benedetto said. “He has a good running style because he’s trying to process the game and then accelerating. If he starts hitting full speed earlier in his runs, then who knows what his ceiling will be.”
For Plano East, the spirit of the team is high, and they’re confident ahead of their next game on the road at Plano this Friday. The Panthers were a program with a total of three wins over the last three seasons and now have firmly set making the playoffs as a goal.
With players like Fayombo leading one of the top offenses in the Metroplex, the possibility is beginning to feel real.
“We haven’t had a season like this in a few years now and we’re trying to change the culture here,” Fayombo said. “We’re confident in what we’re able to do and take the team to greater heights.”