Strength of Hawk team found
in seniors in the trenches
By Bill Owney
The Vikings have the Purple People Eaters, the Jets are Gang Green, the undefeated Dolphins had the No-Name Defense, and the Pleasant Grove Hawks are powered by the Fat Boy Gang.
Rarely are their names called out during a game. The only time they get to touch the ball is when someone else drops it. They don’t get the headlines; indeed, their names are found at the bottom of the roster, but when the scoreboard gets lit up or the opponent gets shut down, the unsung heroes in the trenches are the meat of the matter.
Combined, senior linemen Austin Toler, Drake Fowler, Nick Gavriel, Zach Wrinkle and Hunter Druhan are three-quarters of a ton on whom the Hawk offense and defense rely every week.
“They’re just so physical. They just beat us up,” said Atlanta Coach Matt McClure in a comment echoed by opposing coaches throughout the season. The toll the veteran linemen exact on opponents is a big reason the Hawks outscore opponents by an average of 44-16, and do their greatest damage in the second and fourth quarters.
The Alabamas, Auburns and TCUs of the world are not recruiting the members of this proficient high school line, though the majority will have a chance to play Division II football. It’s not size and raw talent that propels them; rather they depend on trust, communication, perseverance and a level of strength and conditioning that is the product of intense, year-round work.
“Nobody outworks us. It’s that simple,” said Gavriel, a first-team all-district player since his sophomore season. “I don’t think anybody practices as hard as we do or plays with as much energy.”
Their intense work ethic and determination to conquer is not lost on coach Josh Gibson.
“Most linemen are fun to coach,” he said. “They don’t care if we run or pass; they’re not going to get the ball,” Gibson said. “This group has a ton of fight in them. They’re driven. They’re selfless. They’re the type of young men I’d want my daughter to date, that I’d take for my own sons.
“The game is won or lost in the trenches, and this group usually wins.”
And they’re hungry. Pleasant Grove has already set a benchmark with an undefeated regular season. Now begins the school’s fourth consecutive playoff appearance, and the line wants this second season to last right up to Christmas.
“This week seems like it’s gone on forever,” said Toler. “I’m just ready to play.”
To be sure, both the offensive and defensive lines get plenty of critical play from underclassmen and senior substitutes, but Gibson said his senior linemen set the tone, both on and off the field.
At 6-foot-6, 310 lbs., Fowler, who plays tackle on offense and nose guard on defense, is the biggest of the bunch. He holds two D-II scholarship offers and is being recruited to walk-on at an SEC school. He is the son of Bill and Lou Fowler.
He confesses to enjoying the defensive side a little more. “My job is to destroy the center every play,” Fowler said with sly grin.
“For his size, Drake is extremely athletic. He’ll definitely play at the next level,” Gibson said. “He helps keep us loose. Everybody on the team laughs at what he says and does.”
Druhan, 6-foot-3 and 240 lbs., is a reliable guard on offense and a disciplined defensive end, adept at setting the edge. He is the son of Dixie Druhan.
“They call him ‘the water boy,’ because he has the same energy as Adam Sandler in that movie. He just runs around, blows up people,” Gibson said.
“Hunter’s an awesome young man. One of the things I’m most proud of him is his father passed away in his freshman year. He came through that huge roadblock of adversity with character and a zeal for life,” Gibson said. “His mom’s done a great job.”
Articulate and thoughtful, Gavriel tends to speak for the unit. He’s the one who came up the Fat Boy Gang nickname. At 6-foot-3 and 310 lbs., he usually can be found at tackle on both sides. He burst on the scene by earning district MVP honors his sophomore season. He is the son of Brittany Gavriel and Chris Gavriel.
“Nick Gavriel is the leader of the line,” Gibson said. “This will be the third year in a row that’s he’s a first-team all-district player. “On the film, it’s just pancake after pancake after pancake. A lot of these guys are starting to get a lot of attention from scouts, and Nick is one of them.
Lining up at the other tackle, or at tight end on offense, is Toler, the son of Jennifer Miller and Jericho Toler. He is a 6-foot, 300-pounder, a three-year soccer letterman who can bench press 355 lbs. and squat more than 500. That translates into a big, strong guy who can run.
“Austin Toler is probably the most athletic of the group,” Gibson said. “He is the most dominant defensive lineman in the district. Game after game, he makes a big impact.”
Wrinkle, a 6-foot-two, 245-lb. center, is the son of Deanna Wrinkle and Bruce. He is a three-year varsity lineman. In PG’s misdirection-oriented wing-T offense, the center plays an important role getting everybody where they are supposed to be.
“Zach is probably most versatile of the group,” Gibson said. “He’s been the most productive center that we’ve had.”
Wrinkle noted that one reason the group plays so well together is that they have been blocking and tackling together for nearly seven years, starting together in youth ball in elementary school.
The cohesion shows. During a game, the line’s only reaction to adversity is to play harder.
“Altogether, they just blend together as a unit. They’re a tight-knit group,” Gibson said. “If they dominate the line of scrimmage, we’re usually going to win football games.”