Ravell Call, Deseret News
When Pleasant Grove conceded 56 points in the first half of last year’s playoff ouster to eventual champion Jordan, it was pretty clear the Vikings weren’t strong enough to compete with 5A's elite.
A year later, the revamped Vikings are off to a 4-0 start and have quickly emerged as one of those elite teams. Defense is the big reason why, and it’s not an accident.
Throughout last winter and spring, second-year coach Les Hamilton challenged his players to arrive 30 minutes early to morning weight-training class, reminding them the only way to compete with the Jordans of 5A was to get bigger and stronger.
Hamilton was pleasantly surprised with the turnout during those weightlifting sessions, and it paid immediate dividends at team camps in June. On June 1, the Vikings finished second at the Ute Shoot powerlifting linemen challenge and then two weeks later won the similar competition at BYU.
That success foreshadowed what lay ahead for Pleasant Grove.
Four games into the season the Vikings have dominated the trenches, beating Orem 52-28, Timpview 21-19, Timpanogos 42-0 and Maple Mountain 45-14.
BYU commit Zac Dawe had a hunch great things were in store before the season even started.
“I really think we have the chance to take the state championship, and that’s something we’ve never really felt we had a chance to do here before,” said Dawe back in August.
Utilizing a 3-3-5 system, new defensive coordinator Ron Halbert — who coached with Hamilton for five years at Alta— has molded that tougher squad into one of the best defenses in the state.
“It’s a good defense to run along with a spread offense,” said Hamilton. “It’s a very aggressive defense, obviously, but it’s worked fantastic for us in the past, and it’s why I brought Ron in.”
Pleasant Grove has been outstanding against the run and the pass, surrendering just 66 rushing yards per game and 127 passing yards per game.
This Friday, the Vikings’ rush defense faces arguably its toughest test of the season in a Region 4 opener against upstart Lehi. Caden Calton has already rushed for 993 yards in just four games for Lehi, and he’s coming off back-to-back 300-yard rushing performances against Pine View and Westlake.
Pleasant Grove’s defense is certainly tougher and more physical than Pine View or Westlake, but Lehi’s offensive line has proved it can open up big holes this season. The Vikings spent the past nine months getting ready for a game like this, and in Region 4 they can expect five more tough games after Friday.
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