Five years ago Pleasant Grove hired Josh Gibson to be its’ head football coach, and the Hawks grew from that moment to be state champions in Class 4A Division II.
“Who would have thought we’d beat Arkansas High twice? Who would have thought we’d win district, and a state championship?,” said Gibson. “I’m hoping our system is our biggest strength in 2018. We’ve had our best fall camp, and I don’t think there will be a team that plays harder than we do.”
Gibson went on to note his current team should return at least nine starters on offense, and seven on defense in 2019.
“That could be a super special year, but our message to this current group of kids is that this year can be, too,” he said.
Graduate cost the Hawks 21 lettermen, nine who have gone on to play college ball on scholarship. Pleasant Grove also returns 21 lettermen, including some of the most talented players in Texas.
Gibson is sold on the idea that junior Ben Harmon is the best high school quarterback in Texas. He believes Bruce Garrett is one of the best running backs in East Texas, and he’s not alone when talking about the ability of sophomore Landon Jackson (6-5, 225).
“We return only one starter in the offensive line, and that’s at tight end,” Gibson said. “A University of Texas coach said he thought Jackson would be playing in the NFL some day at tight end, and there’s a lot of defensive coaches in college who believe he’ll be a great defensive end.”
Jackson led Pleasant Grove defense with 11.5 sacks
Jackson had 98 tackles, including 11.5 sacks as a freshman, earning all-state honors. Sophomore Marcus Burris (6-4, 230) will also be playing tight end and defensive end. They’ll get some rest with senior Miller Hornsby filling in.
Replacing three outstanding linemen that weighed 300 pounds or more won’t be easy. The Hawks’ coaching staff will be looking at several young players to step up, including sophomores Cameron Weekley and Jordan Stuart, both weighing more than 300.
The Hawks must also find replacements for two 1,000-yard runners, and record-breaking receiver Carson Cox.
Transfer could fill holes for Pleasant Grove
Running back by committee is Gibson’s solution with transfer Bladen Reaves and James Wiggins seeing action at fullback. Reaves was a team captain and two-way starter for 5A Bryan Rudder last year until his father accepted a coaching position at Pleasant Grove. Sophomore Nick Martin heads a long list of candidates at tailback, and Garrett could play all three running back positions in the Hawks’ Wing-T.
Six-foot-3 Kamren Woods could be the answer for Carson. Sergio Rodriguez, Brett Walker, and Jackson Cobb are also in the picture.
Defensively, the team will depend of Jackson and Burris up front, while veteran linebackers Caleb Hemphill and Reaves will be in the middle at linebacker. Returning corner Tyler Kelley is moving to safety, with senior Ryan Pickelman playing free safety.
Young, inexperienced players must fill the holes, but Gibson in confident his players will answer the call.
“I don’t know if we should be favorites in district, and I really don’t care,” Gibson said. “I’m more concerned about who we are, and how we’re growing. Our schedule is really tough, and we’ll have to win some games playing really hard, being smart and playing together.”