PLEASANT GROVE — Pleasant Grove appears to be on the rise.
A greater effort in the offseason, key returners at key positions and a stellar coaching staff has set expectations high for the Vikings in 2013.
“We have a really good team with a real solid offense and a solid defense,” said lineman Zac Dawe. “I love the new coaches here and I think they’re doing exactly what needs to be done to take this program far. It’s exciting.”
Les Hamilton, in his second year as coach, determined his players needed to be stronger and tougher after last season. For this reason he challenged each of his players to show up a half hour early for their 7:45 a.m. weight-training class beginning in January.
“I really felt we needed to get stronger, as a team, and we’ve done that,” Hamilton said. “I was very pleased with how our guys responded and we went up to the team power-lifting lineman challenge at Utah and took second and then they took first at BYU’s. I think that’s where you’re probably going to see the biggest improvement on our team.”
It all starts along the offensive front, for most teams, and Hamilton believes his will be the team’s strength this season.
It’s a big group that averages 280 pounds from left to right tackle.
“Zac Dawe is our leader and he’ll be playing left tackle,” Hamilton said. “He’s really put in a lot of work and it shows. His lifts have jumped off the charts and he’s one of the elite players in the state. I really believe our offensive line is going to be great and you love being big and tough there and we’re that.”
The Vikings also have some key play-makers starting with receiver Spencer Romney, who had his season cut short in 2012 due to an early injury.
“I really believe Spencer would have been all-state last year if he had remained healthy,” Hamilton said. “He runs great routes, he’s quick and we think he’s going to be tremendous for us this year.”
“Jacob is Brandon Doman’s nephew, and he’s just a little squirt, but he’s fast as lightning,” Hamilton said. “TJ Wind, he’s just a solid, solid player for us.”
Quarterback is the big question mark for Hamilton and the offense, with three players currently vying for the starting spot. American Fork transfer Jeremiah Evans will compete with Christian Miller and Hamilton’s son, a 6-foot-4 freshman.
“Quarterback is definitely the biggest concern for us right now,” Hamilton said. “The good news is we have three good players competing and they’ll have the benefit of a good, experienced offensive line in front of them, so I think we’ll be okay.”
On defense, Hamilton brought in Ron Halbert as his defensive coordinator.
“We spent five years together at Alta, when I was coach there, and he’s a fantastic defensive coordinator,” Hamilton said. “He runs a great program and I think we’re going to be much improved defensively with him in charge.”
“We don’t have the depth yet on defense to have guys play just one way yet, so we’ll be depending on a lot of guys to play both ways,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton believes his defense will be boosted tremendously by two sophomores, Dallin Pili and Keenan Pili.
“Both of those kids are really going to add to our defense and they’re just young guys, but they’re going to be tremendous,” Hamilton said. “We have some good players on defense and, with Halbert in charge, I think we’re going to have the potential to be really good.”
The expectation is for Pleasant Grove to finish near, or on top, of Region 4, but it’s going to be tough.
“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,” Dawe said. “We have to keep working hard and we play in a real tough region, but guys are working hard and we’re excited.”
Pleasant Grove Vikings at a glance
Coach: Les Hamilton is entering his second year at Pleasant Grove after coaching at Alta High, Hunter High and Grantsville High. He has a 83-42 career record. He won two state championships while at Alta, and he’s from Petaluma, Calif.
(Spread; 6 returning starters)
Les Hamilton is famous for his spread offense and tendency to throw the football, but don't let that fool you. Hamilton has engineered some of the state's best running attacks, particularly in 2007, when Sausan Shakerin led an Alta running attack that gained more than 4,200 yards on the ground.
"We'll throw it up a ton, if that's where we're strong, but we'll run it too, if that's where we're best," Hamilton said. "I like our running back and I love the potential of our offensive line, so yeah, we may be running it a bit more this year. Whatever works best is what we'll do."
(3-3-5; 5 returning starters)
New defensive coordinator, Ron Halbert, is famous for his high-risk, high-reward 3-3-5 system that was championed by BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall, when he first became defensive coordinator at BYU.
"It's a good defense to run along with a spread offense," Hamilton said. "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. He's an outstanding coach and I think we're going to see a lot of improvement on defense."
Coaches preseason Region 4 straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 4 prediction: Second
Pleasant Grove appears to have most important pieces in place to make a run at a state championship. Last year it got bullied around by Bingham and then by Jordan in its final two games, but likely won't be pushed around this year, considering the added strength on both lines.
The team features some very good play-makers and enough experience to punch a ticket to Rice-Eccles stadium in November. If the Vikings can produce adequate play from the quarterback position they should make a deep run in the state playoffs, if not win a state championship.
Pleasant Grove coaching history
2012-current — Les Hamilton (7-4)
2004-2011 — Dale Sampson (48-44)
1987-2003 — Bill Mikelson (89-83)
1980-1986 — Doug Bluth (46-26)
1976-1979 — Bill Kelly (17-21)
1971-1975 — Paul Gillespie (32-17)
1967-1970 — Unknown (15-22)
1966 — Ron Nielson (4-5)
1962-1965 — Gordon Osborne (18-15-3)
1957-1961 — Unknown (18-22-2)
1955-1956 — Ned Alger (22-0)
1953-1954 — Gil Meier (5-9-2)
1952 — Mr. Shifrer (0-7)
1943-1951 — Unknown (25-39)
1937-1942 — Earl "Duke" Giles (8-26-1)
1936 — Elroy West (0-4)
1908-1935 — Unknown (3-14-3)
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
2011 — Brandon Fanaika, OL
2010 — Austin Heder LB
2009 — Joe Kruger, DL
2009 — Dallas Lloyd, Specialist
2008 — Josh Ramage, OL
2008 — LeSean Wilcox, DB
2006 — Zach Brady, DB
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.