Collin College Fall

Panthers building options in backfield

by | Jun 15, 2023 | Sports

Plano East is looking everywhere on its roster to maximize talent, starting with its backfield.

For the second season in a row, the Panthers had an injury to one of their top players at the running back position. Two years ago, it was Ishmail Mahdi after a 2-1 start to the year. Last season, Daniel Fayombo’s injury after an unbeaten start, followed by several other running back injuries, changed the season’s trajectory.

Head coach Anthony Benedetto and his staff wanted to change their approach after last season’s results.

“Those two guys led Plano East to a lot of success when they were on the field producing,” Benedetto said. “The problem was when both guys went down the offense took a huge drop. The backup running back is not always the best running back on the team. So we decided that unless we have a super talented player like those guys, we can’t give one kid all the carries and opportunities.”

Without Fayombo or Mahdi, the Panthers plan to take a by-committee approach to the new season. They’ve been working out several kids on both sides of the ball, training their players to have the option to take snaps in the backfield when needed. Running back coach Patrick Handy has been working with the players new to the position, getting them prepared for the responsibilities in the backfield and preaching ball security this offseason.

“We want to have a lot of guys to be able to make plays for us,” Benedetto said. “We don’t want to manage the situation and hope that all of our guys can run the ball, catch passes and block if we have to and have a successful play.”

Options at running back include the Panthers’ two starting safeties last season, Andrew Earls and Desmond Smith. A rising senior entering his third year as the Plano East starter on defense, Smith reaching the top of the running back depth chart was a surprise to the Panthers’ coaching staff.

“One of the most fun parts of the spring was Desmond Smith,” Benedetto said. “He’s started at safety the last two years, and we didn’t even know he could be good at running back. We put him on our two-way list because he’s a great athlete, but he showed good vision, balance and explosiveness for us to earn the No. 1 spot at running back. With him playing both spots, we’ve got to be careful how much we use him at running back and don’t over-exert him.”

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