Plano East started the 2022 season 3-0, but a slew of untimely injuries left them undermanned for district play.
With head coach Tony Benedetto now entering his second year as head coach of the Panther football program, it was a learning experience to evaluate the roster and understand what was needed to get East back into the postseason. He’s liked the energy so far this spring, with physical practices on both sides of the ball.
“In my second year here now with this staff, I think the kids are holding each other more accountable this season,” Benedetto said. “I think last season we were pushing the kids to correct habits, but now it’s a little less than usual. In just a few years all of these kids will all understand how we want to play and what playing for Plano East will mean.”
The Panthers return a fair amount of talent on both sides of the ball, but several kids were missing the first practices as they wrap up their baseball and track and field seasons. When asked to evaluate things in the offseason after a 3-7 finish in 2022, Benedetto said the coaching staff spent a lot of long nights preparing for spring and the summer, beginning with a philosophy taken from Abraham Lincoln, of all places.
“We are doing things differently,” Benedetto said. “Starting this offseason, we started this program called the ‘team of rivals.’ Lincoln would put people in his cabinet that were his political rivals because he wanted them to argue and disagree until they figured out how to run the country best. This offseason all the coaches got together every Monday night and pick apart a portion of our football team and disagree and have good conversations about how to improve our team.”
While the staff spent their Monday nights debating and discussing the future of the team, coach Benedetto said it felt like it brought the group closer this offseason, and more cohesive with the new season around the corner.
“I think it helped us a lot as a staff,” Benedetto said. “We have a lot of coaches from different places and put together a nice gameplan of how to build our football team.”
One of the big takeaways from last season for Plano East was the injury bug and the effect it had on the team at the end of the season. Down several key players, the Panthers were left scrambling to catch younger players up to play on Friday nights. The goal this season, instead, is to have more players play on both sides of the ball.
“From a whole perspective, we’ve realized that we’re going to have to play kids both ways,” Benedetto said. “We have some great players, but not tons of them. Last year, we were down multiple running backs, linebackers and defensive backs at one point. If we had taught them both sides of the ball in the offseason, we’d be able to play more of our top players on the field.”
At Plano East spring practices you can find about 30 players in blue and gold practice jerseys, signaling players who could be two-way players in 2023. While the team would like to limit the number of snaps players are competing on both sides, they know it will help in the long run to have options among the most talented players.
“It’s put us a little behind because we have to slow it down, simplify things to start and make it a process to be better,” Benedetto said. “It’s hard, because we could be a lot better right now if we played just one way, but our goal is to be good in September and October and we’re going to try and do this and see if it helps Plano East win.”
With the Black vs. Gold spring game scheduled for Friday, May 19, the Panthers have a few more weeks of practices before their first experience under some lights. As the team begins its initial prep for the offseason, they know the road ahead is long before that week one kickoff.
“We never know what’s going to happen,” Benedetto said. “I heard a lot last season, ‘If someone didn’t get hurt, we could’ve made the playoffs.’ Injuries happen, and we have to be prepared for that. Having options and making that sacrifice for the team will be key. It’s going to be mentally challenging for a lot of our guys, but that’s what spring ball is for.”
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