By: Katherine Smith
September 4, 2011
You’d be hard pressed to find any entity in the Bay area that Lee Roy Selmon didn’t impact and high school football is no exception. Lee Roy embraced the high school community and often spoke to teams and generously contributed time and funds.
Last year before the Jefferson Dragons won the school’s first state championship, Lee Roy addressed the team. His namesake restaurant sponsored the team’s pre-game breakfast and he joined the team at its Central Tampa campus before the squad departed for its game in Orlando.
Also last year, the Tampa Tribune’s football season preview theme was preps to pros and featured high school players posing for photos with various current and former Buccaneers. I simply asked Lee Roy at a Buc function if he was interested in taking part and without hesitation he said yes. He proudly posed for photos with several high school players, including James Wilder. It was honor for everyone involved to be in the mere presence of not only one of the best to ever play the game, but also such a truly great person.
Lee Roy Selmon’s restaurant has been a huge supporter of Plant’s football program and many programs in the Bay area. In a glass case in the original Lee Roy Selmon’s on Boy Scout Road, a Plant helmet and signed football from one of the three state championship Plant teams is proudly displayed.
“He was a champion for high school sports, but mostly, he was a champion for humanity,’’ Weiner said. “We teach our kids to be ferocious on the football field, but when they step off to be gentlemen and I don’t know that you have a better example of that than Lee Roy Selmon.
“His humility was 100% sincere.’’
Weiner and his family were inaugural Bucs season ticket holders. They purchased their tickets four years before the franchise came to Tampa in 1976. For 8 straight seasons, Weiner attended every Bucs home game.
“That was my first introduction to football,’’ Weiner said. “I loved watching Lee Roy play. I just remember him being a mauler. His huge arms outstretched chasing after quarterbacks was an amazing sight. It was like a bear engulfing a quarterback. There were a lot of bad plays those first couple of years, but you could always count on at least three maulings by Lee Roy.
“I was there at the beginning when things weren’t always so good, but Lee Roy was always a shining light.’’
Jesuit head coach James Harrell played in the NFL for eight seasons and against Lee Roy when Harrell was with the Detroit Lions.
“It’s a sad day in Tampa. We lost a great man,’’ Harrell said. “A guy who inspired everyone. There was always a smile on his face. He was someone you could go to for advice. He’d give you the shirt off his back. He returned all phone calls. Everybody was important.”
Hillsborough High head coach Earl Garcia: “He was a great person who happened to be a great football player. He was such a class act. He didn’t have a closet to have any skeletons. He didn’t smoke, didn’t drink and he took great care of himself and everyone around him. And now he’s gone at 56. It’s a huge loss.”
Tampa Catholic head coach Bob Henriquez: “What amazes me most about Lee Roy is the number of lives he touched. It seems like everyone knew Lee Roy. We mention him to the team at halftime of our game Friday night and there were players who knew him through their church or by something Lee Roy did to help them straighten out something in their lives. It’s just devastating for the community to lose someone like that.”
Armwood coach Sean Callahan had a special encounter with Lee Roy when he first got into coaching.
“I was a 22-year-old kid who just started coach high school football (at East Bay at that time). I was playing pick-up basketball at Carrollwood Park and this tall guy walks into the gym and starts shooting around with me. I didn’t even know it was Lee Roy Selmon. So later I find out it’s him and I say ‘Sorry, I had no idea.’ And he says ‘It’s OK. I didn’t know who you were.’ And then I start talking to him about how I’ve just started coaching high school football and he tells me about how many lives I’m going to touch and how he and his brothers were so influenced by their high school coach in Oklahoma. He came back to the gym a few nights later and we played some 1-on-1 and he was just go graceful and so athletic and was dunking the ball with ease.
“Years later, we’d see each other in various football circles, shake hands and he’d talk about those nights at Carrollwood rec center and ask me about my football teams and my kids. I think about that and it strikes me how everything was right with Lee Roy. It was never about race or money or your stature in the world. With him, it was who you were as a person.”
September 11, 2010
TAMPA – Coach Robert Weiner and his Plant Panthers will be deep in the heart of Texas next Thursday night, in Abilene, on ESPN, defending state – and county – pride. “We’re going there to ‘ball out,’ ” James Wilder said. But first came deep in the heart of Hillsborough County. First came the heart of Coach Earl Garcia and his Hillsborough Terriers, who for the better part of Friday evening matched up with Plant. “We played our guts out,” Garcia said. But Plant showed some heart, too, while playing without starting quarterback Phillip Ely, who’s hurting with a lower leg strain.
Then there’s the heart of No. 32. “I knew I needed to do my share,” Wilder said. His share: 196 yards, three touchdowns. Final: Plant 20-13. Did we mention about when he went down? It’s true. With about seven minutes remaining in the second quarter, there came a moment that silenced the crowd at Dad’s Stadium. A season seemed to hang in the balance. There on the brand new Plant playing surface was: James Wilder. Plant’s all everything phenomenon stayed down. It looked like a left knee. Wilder was helped to his feet and barely put weight on it as he was helped off. A few minutes later, Wilder was back in the game. It had only been an ugly gash inflicted by a Hillsborough face mask in the pile.
“He told me, ‘Coach, my bad, I’m sorry,’ ” Weiner said. Then he went in and did his thing. “He knew this was a moment where he had to carry us on his back,” Weiner said.
To start the second half, Wilder was all over the place, carrying the load, before his short touchdown run put Plant up 14-7. Hillsborough came back on a 60-yard touchdown run by Tim Randolph. Wilder put it away late with another score. All of this, and more, marked the Panthers and Terriers christening Plant’s state-of-the-art synthetic playing surface, which cost $600,000 and was completely funded by private donations. “We washed 7 trillion, 304 cars,” Weiner quipped.
Now comes a 1,300-mile trip to Texas to face top-ranked Abilene on ESPN. There’s a chance for redemption, as Weiner’s Panthers were rubbed out by Bradenton Manatee in an exhibition game a few weeks ago on ESPN. The Panthers took a big drop from No. 3 in ESPN’s rankings and were No. 43 Friday. “We got (beat) pretty bad,” Wilder said. “Everybody around here was a little down. Now we get to go to Texas and show them how Florida football works. We get another chance to show what we got.”
Weiner sees the Texas trip as honoring great Hillsborough County teams, past and present. “We wouldn’t be where we are right now without Armwood being really good, without Jefferson, with Earl and Hillsborough being good for as long as they have. A lot of other teams before us kept pushing the envelope,” he said.
Garcia’s bunch had the toughest schedule in the county to start the season – at Jefferson, at Plant. The Terriers found some things to build on, but still find themselves 0-2 this morning. “0-2 is tough to swallow,” Garcia said. Plant hasn’t looked like a national power yet. Maybe the Panthers aren’t. Then again, maybe No. 32 will have something to say about it. There’s deep in Texas’ heart, and there’s deep in his.
James Wilder cuts through a hole in the TBT defense. PHOTO BY: BILL WARD Tampa Tribune
By: Katherine Smith
September 4, 2010
TAMPA – When the Plant Panthers hand out game balls, they might want to toss one to the Tampa Bay Tech concessions staff.
Apparently, the chicken they served was the difference in the second
half for James Wilder, the Panthers’ senior two-way starter, who took
over the game and helped avenge last year’s loss to the Titans. Plant
hung on for a 10-0 victory against Tech in front of a standing-room-only
crowd at the Titans’ stadium.
I don’t know if the chicken was fried or what, but it was frozen and
I knew I needed to eat it to get right, Wilder said. They fed me that
and I got right.
Wilder picked up 52 of his 78 rushing yards in the second half and
recovered a Tech fumble with less than two minutes remaining to help
seal the victory.
Feeling a bit woozy in the first half because of a stomach virus,
Wilder emerged from the locker room with a belly full of chicken and a
He came out like an animal, Plant coach Robert Weiner said. First
on defense, he was all over the place. And then, as we’ve done it
before, we just put the ball in his hands to seal the game.
Putting the ball in his hands became a necessity after quarterback
Phillip Ely aggravated the ankle injury he sustained last week in the
loss to Bradenton Manatee. Ely led the Panthers into the end zone on an
11-play drive to take the lead 7-0 with 6:44 remaining in the first
quarter. On Plant’s next offensive series, Ely had to be helped off the
field after he was sacked and fumbled.
He returned after sitting out one series and led Plant to the Titans’
8-yard line, but another turnover on fourth-and-goal kept the Panthers
out of the end zone.
Plant, which had five unsportsmanlike penalties, turned the ball over
again at the beginning of the third quarter, but Tech failed to
capitalize despite having first-and-goal at the Panthers’ 9-yard line. A
false-start penalty, a sack and an incomplete pass brought up
fourth-and-goal. Tech lined up for a field goal, but faked it with a
direct snap to the kicker, who was tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
Plant controlled the clock for most of the fourth quarter and got a
key special-teams play from junior Austin Aikens, who downed a Plant
punt at the Titans’ 1-yard line.
That series resulted in Wilder’s recovered fumble and led to Grant Van Aman’s 37-yard field goal.
We’ll see them again. This was just Volume 1, Tech coach C.C.
Culpepper said. I hate to say that I am happy because we did lose, but
we built some character. We learned a lot. We’ll build and we’ll be
P – Ely 1 yard run (Van Aman kick)
P – FG Van Aman 37 yards
ESPN RISE Magazine
With a little help from Wilder and a cast of friends,
ESPN RISE set out to see what a screenplay for the movie version of his
life might look like.
EXTERIOR: BRYANT STADIUM – NIGHT
Zoom in on a
Jumbotron at a high school football field in LAKELAND in December of
2008. As the clock expires, the scoreboard shows a 40-20 victory for the
home team. Fans celebrate, and we hear screams, air horns, bells, music
and chants of so hot / to be a Dread-naught.
CUT TO: CLOSE-UP
player on the losing team holds his helmet in his hands. Only a
sophomore, he’s tall and muscular. His name is JAMES WILDER JR., and his
team, CHAMBERLAIN, has just been eliminated in the Class 5A regional
finals by the dreaded Dreadnaughts in what would be the last game for
legendary CHIEFS coach BILLY TURNER. We see that Wilder is crying.
hold up: That’s not how Wilder, the nation’s top athlete and No. 8
recruit in the ESPNU 150, sees the movie of his life story beginning.
His version starts with his older brother CURTIS, now 32, getting him
involved in youth football. James, who has bounced around quite a bit in
his 18 years, lived mostly with Curtis from ages 11-16.
CUT TO: INTERIOR: CHAMBERLAIN HIGH – DAY
a freshman, is called to Turner’s office in the fall of 2007. Curtis is
there, so James assumes he’s in trouble. It turns out that Florida
coach URBAN MEYER is in the office to see Turner, and the Gators’ coach
greets the young, impressionable freshman.
To James, this meeting
is a turning point. Well, maybe for football, but not for his life
story. Sure, James soon becomes a standout running back/linebacker on
the gridiron, but he just as quickly slacks off in the classroom. After
his sophomore year, he transfers from Chamberlain in North Tampa to
PLANT in South Tampa to live with his mom, BARBARA. This positions him
well for football, as the PANTHERS are defending state champs. But
academically, it’s not a quick fix. He enters Plant with a 2.1 GPA.
PLANT COACH ROBERT WEINER
James was not very studious when he came over. He was scraping along the bottom of the barrel in terms of being eligible.
that scene comes later. The fall of 2009 is all about football. In a
preseason game against MANATEE, James tallies seven tackles and rushes
for 100 yards in the first quarter — then does little else the rest of
the game. He’s gassed, and the Panthers lose. Plant then falls in its
first game to TAMPA BAY TECH, and suddenly a season of great promise
isn’t looking so good. James blames himself, but it’s not a problem of
effort — it’s a matter of conditioning and of picking his spots.
James doesn’t pace himself. He is all out on every single play.
is reason for hope, however. Starting quarterback PHILLIP ELY missed
the start of the season with an injury but is ready to return. And while
Plant has always had a pass-oriented offense —Ely’s predecessors ROBERT
MARVE and AARON MURRAY each broke the state single-season record for
touchdown passes — the offense suddenly has balance with James in the
mix. And the defense, thanks largely to him, is more intimidating than
We had a pretty stacked team in my eyes. We had a lot of guys returning. It wasn’t in our minds to lose.
CUT TO: MONTAGE: HIGHLIGHT REEL (Click Here to Watch Wilder’s Amazing Highlights Video) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qepm9LRX5B4)
indeed, the Panthers start winning. They beat rival ARMWOOD, and then
the scores — and James’ numbers — start getting ridiculous: 49-0, 57-21,
40-0, 59-14, 77-16. All the winning sets up the scene we’ve been
waiting for: the state semifinals and the Return to Lakeland.
CUT TO: EXTERIOR: BRYANT STADIUM – NIGHT
has been here before, and the Dreadnaught faithful aren’t letting him
forget it. We see James warming up on the field, and hear shouts of
“crybaby” — and worse — directed his way.
That was the most focused I think I’ve ever been. I just wanted to demolish them.
eats a ton of clock on its opening drive, a run-heavy series that
features lots of No. 32 — James. But the Panthers are stopped inside the
Lakeland 20 and face fourth and short. You can probably count on one
hand the number of times Weiner has called a running play on fourth
down, but Plant sets up in a power formation. James takes the handoff
and is hit just past the line. After gaining a few yards, he has about a
half-dozen Dreadnaughts on him and nearly goes down, putting one hand
on the turf to steady himself and push back up. With the help of his
teammates pushing and pulling, James carries half the players on the
field into the end zone.
A dagger of a drive, and the Panthers go
on to win, 20-0. The next week, Plant avenges its preseason loss to
Manatee and wins the Class 5A state title, its second consecutive crown
and third in four years. Wilder finishes the year with 1,004 rushing
yards, 15 touchdowns and some truly gaudy defensive stats: 136 tackles,
42 tackles for loss and 19 sacks.
So that’s it, right? Roll the
credits? Not even close. The academic situation comes to a head after
the season. Not only is James likely to lose eligibility, he is in
danger of failing Spanish I, which means he might not be able to
graduate on time. Weiner soon enlists the help of ANDRIA ROGERS, the
mother of fullback/linebacker TATE ROGERS, to oversee an intense push to
get James on track academically.
Coach Weiner knew I had a really good tutor.
did the best we could, worked around the clock, tried to figure out
what had happened.
My son would just drive him home every day. He needed
a tutor for like four to five hours.
CUT TO: INTERIOR: ROGERS HOUSEHOLD
starts eating and sleeping at the Rogers’ house. Eventually, he all but
moves in with the blessing of his mom, who lives about four streets
over. The Rogers become like a second family for James, to the extent
that he calls Andria “MAMA ROGERS.” It takes time, but his academic
situation is remedied. In the spring semester, he barely misses the
honor roll, making all A’s and B’s except for one C. He raises his GPA
At Chamberlain, I never thought I was going to
be big-time like that, so I never took [school] that serious.
came over to Plant, they had everything set up. I had to make up like
Mama Rogers has helped me out a lot. Eventually I got used
to it, got more comfortable.
CUT TO: MONTAGE: THE FUTURE
how does the movie end? There’s still this season, one filled with huge
expectations for James and for Plant, the state’s top squad and the No.
2 team in the POWERADE FAB 50 ESPN RISE Team Rankings. Then there’s the
whole recruiting process. Florida, Alabama, USC, Georgia, Miami and
Florida State are among the schools that offered, but on Aug. 18 Wilder
committed to FSU. At 6-foot-2 — pushing 6-3 — and 225 pounds, James is
projected as a linebacker at the next level by many scouts, but he’s
adamant about playing running back.
After college, Wilder envisions himself making it to the NFL, where his
dad was a star running back for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He wants to do
charity work like Bucs legends DERRICK BROOKS and WARRICK DUNN and
become a motivational speaker “for the kids that don’t have everything
coming up and feel like they have no hope.”
Wilder wants to tell
them that if he can make it, they can, too. That would be a great
ending, but we still need a name for this movie.
You’ve seen The Blind Side ? It would be like
that… (Pauses, thinking. Then cracking up.)
THE WILD SIDE! Hey, that’s
FADE TO BLACK
By Katherine Smith
The Tampa Tribune
Published: May 31, 2010
TAMPA – Plant High quarterback Phillip Ely has been extended an invitation to play in the annual U.S. Army All-American Bowl Game.
Panthers coach Robert Weiner said Ely is one of the first in the nation to receive confirmation of his spot on the final roster. Ely is expected to get his formal invitation during a ceremony in the fall.
Obviously, it’s a great honor to get an invitation to a national game and such a prestigious game, Weiner said. Phillip is certainly deserving of that spot. I don’t know anybody that’s worked harder. It’s great that he’s receiving some individual accomplishment because he’s a young man who has always had team goals.
With more than 20 Division I scholarship offers, including South Florida, Arizona State, Illinois and Purdue, Ely is one of the top quarterback prospects in the country. Last season, he improved to 19-0 as a starter in the Panthers’ state title victory against Bradenton Manatee.
Ely joins a growing list of Plant participants in the Army game. Two years ago, Aaron Murray and Orson Charles took part.
In January, Plant two-way starter James Wilder Jr. was named the MVP of the U.S. Army All-American Combine for underclassmen, one of the many events leading up to the game. Wilder also has been invited to participate in the bowl game.
James Wilder runs through 3 Manatee High defenders and knocks them over
like bowling pins on the way to a 42 yard touchdown run!
Plant Defeated Manatee to Win the State Championship for the 3rd time in 4 Years.