Josh Gibson has reason to be excited about his 2020 Pleasant Grove football squad.
“We have the same high expectations,” said Gibson, whose Hawks won state championships in 2017 and 2019. Pleasant Grove finished second to Cuero in 2018.
“We return half of last year’s state championship squad. That means half your team is going to be better than they were a year ago. We obviously feel good about the kids we have coming back. We’re ranked second in 4A by Dave Campbell Magazine. That’s the highest we’ve been ranked, except for last year.”
Pleasant Grove graduated 21 lettermen, including all-staters Ben Harmon at quarterback, Bruce Garrett at running back, Sergio Rodriguez at receiver, and 2021 graduate-to-be Marcus Burris, one of Texas’ best defensive linemen. Burris suffered a season-ending ankle injury in early running drills.
“We’ll miss Marcus because he was a great player and a good person,” said Gibson. “We’re fortunate that we have another big body to put in the defense line. Torie Phillips (6-7, 298) did not start in last year’s state championship game, or the last two playoff games. He’s already picked up a lot of DI offers based on his size and athleticism.”
Gibson high on young quarterback
The Hawks are also fortunate to have junior quarterback Jalen Woodside, who will replace three-year starter Ben Harmon.
“I have high expectations for Woodside; his fall camp has been as good as it possibly could,” said Gibson. “People coming out to watch us practice might think he was our starting quarterback last year. He looks that crisp. I think he’s got a shot to be the best quarterback in our district. He’s a talented young kid.”
Lining up behind Woodside will be senior Nick Martin, Logan Johnson, Imahd Hicks, and freshman Jaylen Boardley.
“Martin is getting DI attention in the backfield,” said Gibson. “Boardley has had a great off season. I think we’re really loaded in the backfield. Hicks will get a lot of action at fullback. He’s one of the most physical backs we’ve had since I’ve been at Pleasant Grove.”
Hawks’ 2020 squad deep with experience
The Hawks are also deep at wide receiver. Quinn Bingham, Alex Galvan, Jonathan Ketchum and Corbin Shine head a long list.
Perhaps the best news on offense for the Hawks is the return of five of six linemen.
Pleasant Grove’s opponents this fall will face giants despite the absence of Burris, who was voted MVP in last year’s state title game.
Defensive end Landon Jackson (6-6, 258) is arguably the Hawks’ most decorated player. He was recruited by nearly half the DI schools in the country. Jackson committed last winter to LSU. Cameron Weekly will also be up front with Phillips and Alex Murphy.
Pleasant Grove squad loaded with talent
Martin is back at linebacker. There’s probably 10 other players who will see time at that position. The secondary will be solid as usual.
“I think our secondary has been pretty good, because we have been able to go to three state championship games in a row,” said Gibson. We’ve had some really good football players back there. They’ve come away with more big plays than they’ve given up. We will miss Rodriguez and his speed.”
Like every high school football team in the nation, the Hawks must also deal with the coronavirus this fall.
“We got hit at the end of strength and conditioning, which took out a couple of kids at the beginning of fall camp,” said Gibson. “Ever since then we’ve been healthy — knock on wood. People are going to get it throughout this year. We’re starting the season in a good spot, the biggest reason being our last three years of success.”
The Hawks open the 2020 season at Nashville, a 4A state-ranked team in Arkansas.
“Playing Nashville will be fun,” Pleasant Grove’s coach said. “We’re all looking forward to it.”
2020 Pleasant Grove Schedule
Aug. 28 at Nashville (Ark.)
Sept. 4 Argyle
Sept. 11 at Paris
Sept. 18 Silsbee (at Carthage)
Oct. 2 Carthage
Oct. 9 x-at Pittsburg
Oct. 16 x-North Lamar
Oct. 23 x-at Spring Hill
Oct. 30 x-Liberty-Eylau
Nov. 6 x-at Gilmer
x-Denotes 8-4A Division II games.