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McKnight Road project on homestretch

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Ahh, June.

Silver moon, flowers abloom, memories of a delicate dance with a girl from Saskatoon.

And soon, drivers on under-construction McKnight Road, a developmentally delayed cocoon, will croon a happier toon.

With any luck, next month paving machines will lay the final touches on a $2.7-million, 0.9-mile project to widen the roadway from 24 to 44 feet and install a 14-foot turn lane. The project was originally slated to be finished by fall, but weather, construction issues, and simple physics all conspired to push that back.

“The shoulders have to be seal-coated before we can pave, and the sealcoating requires warmer nights – temperatures in the 70s – to get a good set,” said Marcus Sandifer, public information officer with the Texas Department of Transportation’s Atlanta office.

“They couldn’t get that done in October, so they had to wait out the winter,” he said. TxDot oversees the project because McKnight Road is also a state road, Farm-to-Market 1297.

The past few weeks, crews from Caver Construction in Atlanta have worked to complete driveways and build a stable drainage system. Though this has been a cool spring, Sandifer said plans now call for sealing the shoulders in the next few weeks and to call in the paving machines in June.

McKnight is contiguous to an area primed for retail and business development. In the long term, planners expect traffic on McKnight to continue to increase and, at some point, to need to be widened into a four-lane artery with turn lanes with curbs and gutters.

Two schools are on McKnight and high-schoolers use it as a walkway home. A few years ago, a PG student was struck by a car on McKnight.  When the next project comes along, installing sidewalks along McKnight might be something that TxDot’s Texarkana Urban Transportation Office considers, Sandifer said.

For the time being, smooth pavement from Richmond Road to Pleasant Grove Road will be a thing over which drivers may swoon.

In June.

Bond issue about PG’s future

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Braxton Watkins helps lead the team onto the field for the second half in a district showdown with Gilmer.

Pleasant Grove’s best product is Pleasant Grove.

If PG homeowners – my wife and I included –  wish to ease their share of school taxes, it would be wise to do a lot of long-range planning and a little bit of salesmanship to help grow the tax roll. In a district comprised mainly of single-family homes, that starts with good schools.

This revelation came to me as I pored over numbers relevant to PG’s proposed $19.9 million bond issue. Early voting is open. Election day is Saturday, May 5.

Data from the school district’s budget, the Bowie Central Appraisal District, the Texas Education Agency, and The Texas Tribune’s education database shows that Pleasant Grove Schools fight three financial headwinds: debt, a lack of commercial property and below-average state and federal contributions.

Results are there

Still, taxpayers get their money’s worth. With less to spend per pupil – $9,266 last year vs. the state average of $12,264 – PG has one of the highest graduation rates in the state of 98.6 percent, nearly 10 points better than the state average, and zero dropouts.

SAT and ACT scores are significantly above average, as is participation in college-level, dual-credit courses at the high school, consistently a top-10 finisher in competition for the University Interscholastic League’s Lone Star Cup, awarded for excellence in both athletic and academic competition. The school’s performing and visual arts programs are nationally recognized and administrators say that nearly 90 percent of high school and middle school students are involved in extracurricular activities.

“Sure,” you’re thinking, “but they have a bunch of Stepford children.”

Not true.

The student body is more homogenous than many may believe. A third, 32.9 percent, of students are classified as being at-risk of dropping out, a TEA designation that weighs family income, academic progress, and disciplinary issues. Thirty-two percent are economically disadvantaged. Enrollment in career and technical programs is 27.4 percent, slightly greater than the state average.

Discipline is not a big issue at PG. During the football team’s 16-0 state championship run, for example, not a single player was lost to suspension. Seven players signed college athletic scholarships, but three times that number will attend college on academic scholarships. Four earned academic all-state honors.

Faculty pays, too

Clearly, Pleasant Grove schools are overperforming, and the faculty is a key reason. The average salary is $46,021 – $6,504 below the state average. Despite that, the average teacher has 13 years of experience, 30 percent more than the Texas average, and 44.2 percent have at least a master’s degree. That’s nearly double the state average.

This past year the school board gave teachers who dedicate their afternoons and weekends to extracurricular activities a $500 stipend. So, these dedicated educators could go somewhere else, go home at 3:30 every afternoon and still be $6,000 ahead. Think about that when you get your tax bill. A big chunk of PG’s financial struggle is born by a well-educated, highly motivated, underpaid faculty.

About that debt

Regardless, a non-debatable truth is that PG homeowners pay some of the highest tax bills around. That is a product of two factors, taxable value times tax rate. According to the appraisal district, the median home value in PG is about $184,000, second in the county only to Redlick ISD’s $201,000.

By comparison, Texarkana ISD’s tax rate of $1.425 per $100 is nearly identical to PG’s $1.44, but the median home value in TISD is $85,404, meaning the average residential school tax bill in PG is more than twice as high.

The average tax rate in Texas is $1.28 per $100, or 1.28 percent of taxable value. Looking over TEA’s aggregated data, it appears the plurality of school districts are allocating about $1.17 of that to maintenance and operations and another dime or so to debt service.

That is not the case in Pleasant Grove, which dedicates $0.35 to debt service and $1.09 toward running the schools. The reason is simple. PG is a relatively young school district that first opened a high school 34 years ago and has gradually added critical infrastructure since.

In the past two decades, PG has built a new intermediate school, new gyms, an auditorium, a new administration building, a new stadium, a new science lab, added classrooms, installed air conditioning, refinanced old debt at lower rates. The list is long.

In all, the district dedicates about $2.4 million a year to pay down $30.4 million in principle on seven bonds. Some of those will start to fall away in the next few years, and all will be paid by February 2032.

Now is the time to build

One’s natural inclination is to wait until more debt is paid off before acquiring new debt. If only that were an option. The district is gaining around 25 new students a year and the elementary school is out of room and too outdated to provide a 21st-century education, the needs of which were an important consideration of a blue-ribbon citizens advisory committee that studied these issues throughout the fall and winter

Have you driven by the place lately? Look at it with fresh eyes. How would you like to be a Realtor asked to show the schools to buyers weighing Pleasant Grove vs. Redlick or Redwater? Between inflation and rising interest rates, delay today will only add costs tomorrow.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter.

Who pays?

Of PGISD’s $962 million in taxable value, nearly 62 percent is single-family residences. On the south side of I-30, by contrast, TISD has a $2.1 billion tax roll, but only 33 percent is single-family. The mall, all those car lots, all the retail along I-30 are in TISD.

This year, Pleasant Grove is classified by TEA as property-poor, the result of a calculation so Byzantine that NASA mathematicians have been known to run off screaming and seek employment as fry cooks. The key number is $514,000, the quotient of a simple ratio: property wealth per student. That’s what TEA says it takes to support a “basic” education.

This year, the Bowie Central Appraisal District puts the value of PGISD’s tax roll at about $962 million. That, divided by the district’s average daily attendance of 2,121, nets an average of $454,000, so the state is going to kick in little to make up the difference. That is likely to continue because the rate of growth in students is outpacing growth in PG’s tax roll.

Finding more business to help pay for schools would seem a smart play, but adding commercial taxpayers is problematic in Pleasant Grove, where vast swathes of flood-prone grassland dominate the map. One doubts that PG residents want to see a factory if one could even be built in the Red River alluvial plain.

The district does include some superb economic engines which promise to foster residential growth, such as CHRISTUS St. Michael and Texas A&M Texarkana, but both are tax-exempt. The most obvious play might be to do what is already being done and to encourage retail and professional development along Richmond Road and the west side of Summerhill Road.

My wife and I call this area “the cocoon,” because of the terrific shopping, dining, and entertainment opportunities, plus the proximity of medical and business professionals. Building more high-quality homes in the school district will only encourage that retail and professional development to accelerate.

That will take time and it will come in cycles. Vacant acres still abound south of McKnight Road – the school district’s southern boundary – and I-30. That includes land purchased for the eventual relocation of Wadley Hospital.

The smart play

In the meantime, Superintendent Dr. Jason Smith and the school board have taken a tack to position the district to take advantage of the hand dealt it today while keeping an eye on tomorrow’s opportunities. Renovating the elementary school into a career and technical center has many advantages, not the least of which is preparing non-college bound students to thrive and weather the economic storms that batter every generation.

The district receives less than 2 percent of its funding from the federal government, but that will change. Expanded vocational offerings could pull in as much as $500,000 a year in new federal funds.

This effort fits hand-in-glove with the continuous growth in career programs being engineered by Texarkana College President James Henry Russell. In time, one can envision the schools synergizing their effort to include two-plus-two programs, which combine training in the last two years of high school with the first two years of college. Does a 20-year-old RN, BSN have a bright future?

(Full disclosure, I teach one class per semester at TC).

At some point, a new career center will be needed, but give Richmond Road time to develop, and a less debt-ridden school district might be able to sell that prime property at the intersection of Richmond and University not by the acre, but by the square foot.

So, yes, a new elementary school will slightly increase our school taxes, but my wife and I, soon to be empty nesters, still believe in the social contract. Somebody helped educate us and our children, so we don’t mind pitching in now. Plus, we’re practical: Good schools equal increased home equity, and a great quality of life is priceless.

 

 

Hawks reap fruits of labors

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Coach Josh Gibson and the 2018 State Champion Pleasant Grove Hawks accept the the Army National Guard national ranking trophy as part of the 13th Annual MaxPreps Tour of Champions. Sgt. Caleb Ingram makes the presentation.

Like puppies getting their bellies rubbed, the undefeated, state champion Pleasant Grove Hawks spent Tuesday basking in the glow of success.

It was National Signing Day and 10 Hawk athletes – eight in football, one in baseball and one in golf, accept scholarships that will allow them to continue their playing careers while receiving an education, something that happens for fewer than four percent of high school athletes.

Hawk Signees

(scroll over for links)

Xavier Benson, Texas Tech
TJ Cole, Ouachita Baptist
Carson Cox, Wichita State
Drake Fowler, Arkansas Tech
Nick Gavriel, Arkansas Tech
Chauncey Martin, Texas AM Commerce
Caleb Porchia, Ouachita Baptist
Austin Toler, Harding
Braxton Watkins, Houston
Cameron Wells, Southern Nazarene

In the afternoon, Pleasant Grove was recognized as one of the top 50 teams in the nation in a trophy presentation from the Army National Guard as part of the 13th Annual MaxPreps Tour of Champions.

To help commemorate the occasion, U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe sent the school a flag that flew over the Capitol Building. Texarkana, Texas, Mayor Bob Bruggeman presented official city pins to coach Josh Gibson and championship game MVP’s T.J. Cole and Caleb Porchia.

All of it, according to Gibson, was deserved. It was earned during four years of self-discipline, dedication, and desire.

“This is the hardest working team I have ever been around,” said Gibson, noting that not a single player was suspended for disciplinary reasons, nor did any player ever ask him for more playing time or for more opportunities to touch the ball.

“This is the most together team I have been around,” he said. “It was always about the success of the team first.”

Pleasant Grove fans contributed. Gibson recalled that late in the championship game at AT&T Stadium, quarterbacks coach Riley Fincher suggested he turn around and look at the stands.

Throughout the game, the coaches faced the West Orange-Stark side, and it was well populated. That happens when a team makes four straight championship games and wins the second two during a 40-game win streak.

Gibson looked back. He was confronted with a larger, and louder, crowd.

“You turn around and you look at Hawk Nation and we have the first level filled up, and we have the second level filled up, and we have the third level filled up,” he said. “That was amazing.”

Gibson reminded his players that they made history.

“Ten years from now, we’ll be back to celebrate. Twenty-five years from now and 50 years from now those of us still kicking will be back,” he said. “This team will never be forgotten. It’s the best team in Pleasant Grove history, the best in the state, and one of the best in the nation.”

Hawk Nation gives the undefeated state champions one last standing ovation.

Watkins makes most of shot he has

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Braxton Watkins helps lead the team onto the field for the second half in a district showdown with Gilmer.

Houston, we have a golfer

After facing down death at 13, Braxton Watkins doesn’t see a bad golf lie as such a big deal.

Watkins, son of Barry and Hollye Watkins, on Tuesday signed a national letter of intent with Houston. The only thing that might surprise the people who knew him in seventh grade, when doctors discovered a brain tumor, is that he will play golf, not football.

A star running back in junior high in De Queen, Ark, Watkins set the school record for scoring. That night he became violently ill, vomiting and passing out. Within hours he was at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, where an MRI revealed a mass in his brain.

Braxton Watkins watches his three-pointer go in against New Boston.

“After the doctor told my parents, he came in and told me. He said I would never play football again,” Watkins said. “My dad, who’s pretty reserved, was in tears.

“It’s one of those things that seems like it’s going to kill you at first, but it turned out well.”

That summer he began to focus on golf, and shot a 59 at the golf club in Idabel, Okla. In the meantime, his parents took better jobs in Texarkana. Watkins soon was a terror in area juniors’ tournaments.

In high school he continued to blossom under Pleasant Grove High School coach Rick Rogers, a former Baylor golfer and brother of six-time PGA Tour champion Bill Rogers, a Houston alum.

Watkins has won every district and regional tournament he’s played in and finished in the top flight in three state championship tournaments. He was third as a freshman, second as a sophomore and fourth as a junior.

“I haven’t come through at the state tournament yet, but this is going to be the year,” he said with the same calm assurance that marks his persona on the golf course.

“He can hit a really bad shot and he doesn’t let it bother him,” said his coach. “You can’t teach that.”

In that respect, Watkins demonstrates at an early age something that Bill Rogers did not learn until he turned pro, said Rick Rogers.

“He learned to play the shot he had,” Rick Rogers said. “He was totally focused on that shot, and only that shot.”

Rogers recounted a tournament last summer when Watkins’ tee shot left him solidly behind a tree.

“He hit it straight up and over,” he said. That was followed by a wedge shot to within three feet of the cup.

“I just go with the flow,” Watkins said in a calm voice that is belied by his eyes, which often flash the intensity of a relentless competitor. “You can’t get mad on a golf course.”

Off the tee, Watkins is usually long and straight. Part of that is because he is a natural athlete, part comes from being in impeccable condition because of the regimen he keeps to control his tumor, which is treated not with chemotherapy and radiation, but with diet and exercise.

Prescribed a strict, low-salt diet, Watkins is up well before dawn every morning preparing meals. By 5:30 a.m., he and his buddies are working out at Gold’s Gym before heading off to Pleasant Grove High School, where he earns straight A’s.

He undergoes a monthly MRI and, so far, the tumor has shrunk a little.

“Nobody pushes him but himself,” said his coach. “We were at a tournament last year and I came out of my motel room to find him and another player doing pullups on the back of a staircase. I nearly stepped on their fingers.”

Still, the ability to drive long is not the strength of Watkins’ game. He makes his best shots close to the cup.

“I watched him for a while and asked him what he thought was the best part of his game,” Rogers said. “He said, ‘My putter.’ That’s it, that’s the most important part. If you think you are a good putter, you are. If you think you aren’t, you aren’t.”.

Though the sounds and sights of a football game still tear at his heart, Watkins is often found on the sidelines, doing something to whip up the crowd.

He’s a pretty fair basketball player, too. With three of Pleasant Grove’s starters playing on the school’s Class 4A, Division II state championship team, he filled in at forward and guard, averaging more than 10 points a game and helping the team get off to a 10-2 start. He has returned to the fairways.

“Coach (Josh) Gibson always introduces me as one of the five best athletes in his program,” Watkins said. “I really appreciate that.”

Bill Rogers had an opportunity to watch Watkins and had a short message for his brother.

“He said, ‘He’s got it,” Rick Rogers said.

“When you hear that from somebody who has been No. 1, that builds confidence,” said Watkins, who takes his motivation from many sources.

“Tiger Woods said that talent can only take you so far,” he said. “After that, it’s hard work.”

District champions hungry for more

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Aaron Harmon drives into the paint against Liberty-Eylau.

Hawks have tools to make deep playoff run

As a player at New Boston and in 13 years as a head coach at Clarksville and Pleasant Grove, Billy Brewer has been a part of many great teams but has never advanced beyond the fourth round, the regional semifinals.

The Hawks playoff journey begins at 8 p.m. Tuesday night against Canton at Mount Vernon High School. The winner gets the winner of Chapel Hill-Tatum.

In seven years at PG, Brewer’s teams have always posted at least 20 wins, and have always won a bunch of playoff games, but never made it past the fieldhouse at Texas A&M-Commerce. Maybe this team, with a district 14-4A championship and No. 1 seed tucked in its back pocket, will still be standing when the final four play March 3.

Or maybe not.

Xavier Benson eyes a foul shot at North Lamar.

“The potential to be a great team is there,” Brewer said. “Right now, we’re between being a good team and a great team. I think we’re focused now because it’s the playoffs and one bad night and you’re gone.”

Three of five starters and two key reserves joined a 10-1 team in late December after a state football championship was secured. Every night the Hawks take the court, it is obvious they are taller, stronger, better conditioned, and deeper.

Most nights, that is enough. With a run-and-gun offense and continuous full-court press, the Hawks grind down even good teams. Since the football players joined, the Hawks have gone 11-4. That includes 8-2 in a tough district that might well start the playoffs 4-0.

On other nights, Pleasant Grove looks a bunch of football players trying to play basketball. Rebounds are missed, passes go to empty spaces, no one steps out to cover the other team’s hot shooter. The two district losses came by a net margin of six points and with a combined 50 turnovers.

Landon Jackon defends in the paint against North Lamar. Photo by Joe Watson

“They say, ‘Hey coach, we’re going to be the ones to carry you to state,’ and they can,” Brewer said. “God gave them a lot of ability, but to make a playoff run we have to play to our capabilities, we have to have that dog instinct that says, ‘Hey, let’s take this team out.’”

Over the past 15 games, a starting five coalesced. Senior Xavier Benson, a Texas Tech signee, and freshman Landon Jackson – fresh off a recruiting visit to the University of Texas – anchor a big, tough and athletic interior.

As in football, where he made the game-saving pick-six in the state championship football game, Benson is the playmaker, scoring double digits in the paint, making key rebounds and playing dogged, in-your-face defense all over the court.

“Xavier is coming into his own,” Brewer said. “He’s starting to get his basketball legs. He was getting in three workouts a day, but he’s cut back for the playoffs. He’s scoring more and really improving his defense.”

Kameron Woods drives the base line.

Jackson led in football with 11.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss, and 23 quarterback pressures.  He was third in tackles with 98, was named to the all-state third team.

At 6-foot-seven and growing, he is at once a work in progress and a highly productive player. With three to five blocks a game, he changes the other team’s defense. When he has a rebound blocked out and in his sites, there is no way to take it from him.

Assistant coach Blake Thomas, a big man himself, puts Jackson through rigorous inside-game workouts. That is starting to show in multiple ways, including in the big guy’s shooting touch.

“Landon improves every week,” Brewer said. “Once he gets his hand coordination down, he’s going to be a great player.”

On the outside are a pair of perimeter shooters. One is Aaron Harmon finished the state championship game with a pick-six as time ended.  He and Cameron Wells each have put up 20-plus point games. Both are close defenders and are tall and athletic enough to crash the boards.

At point guard is senior Griffin Young, a capable court general.

“Griffin is our catalyst. He’s smart. He sees the court well. He’s a great ball handler and he takes command of the offense,” Brewer said.

Griffin Young looks for the open man.

When Brewer goes to the bench, there isn’t much drop-off, if any. Noah Fawbush is a first-rate guard and dependable scorer. The other two Harmon brothers, Ben and Luke, are solid players. Luke is one of the best shooters on the team.

Then there is Jackson’s big – in this case, a relative term – brother, Layton, a sophomore who is turning into a big man with guard-like grace and shooting skills.

Though Landon plans to play in the NFL, Layton takes after his father, who played four years of pro ball in Europe.

“Layton is the more pure basketball player of the two,” Brewer said. “He’s getting better every game.

“I love the way our subs play,” Brewer said. “They play with enthusiasm, with energy, and with their hearts. They come prepared to play well.”

So, is this the team?

“I think this team can go as far as it wants to go,” Brewer said. “They have so much character. Thanks to football, they learned how to win. I’m blessed to have these kids.”

Hawks nail down district championship

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The Showstoppers entertain halftime crowd.

Pleasant Grove assured No. 1 playoff seed

Griffin Young looks for the open man.

In a bruising and contentious affair, Pleasant Grove slipped past North Lamar, 46-43, Friday night at Hawk Gym to lay claim to its first District 14-4A championship in four years and a No. 1 seed heading into the state playoffs.

The Hawks rode a tenacious defensive effort and balanced scoring from Aaron Harmon, Kameron Woods, Xavier Benson and Griffin Young to 20-5, 7-2 in the district, leaving them one game ahead of Paris with one to play. Pleasant Grove holds the tiebreaker thanks to a season sweep of the Wildcats.

“The guys knew what was on the table and came out and played great defensively,” said PG coach Billy Brewer. “We were blessed to pull this game out. The crowd did a fantastic job of pumping us up.”

Friday’s was the final home game for seniors Luke Bunel, Aaron and Luke Harmon, June Hee Heo, Tevrin Jackson, Young and Benson. All made contributions.

Aaron Harmon had 10 points, including a pair of buckets in a frantic fourth quarter. Benson finished with nine after hitting five-of-six free throws in the closing minutes.

Four of Young’s eight points came in the fourth quarter as the Hawks battled to hold off North Lamar, which came into the contest at 5-3 and with a shot at a slice of the championship.

Kameron Woods led Pleasant Grove with 11 points. North Lamar’s Jake Walters wound up the game’s high scorer with 12 points after hitting a pair of three-pointers in the fourth quarter, including a desperation shot from 40 feet with two seconds left to make it a two-point game.

Kameron Woods drives the base line.

Pleasant Grove came out strong, scoring the first nine points, but North Lamar answered with a 10-2 run to make it 11-10 at the end of one. It stayed close the rest of the way.

Tied at 27 at the half, both teams came out of the locker room in a full-court press and points were hard to come by. With three minutes left in the contest, the Hawks opened a 40-32 lead, but North Lamar started throwing up prayers, and three were answered, leading to a photo finish.

“North Lamar is a good team and they played a great game,” Brewer said. “I’m just happy we won a district championship.”

Just down the road, second-place Paris knocked off Liberty-Eylau, 75-71 to move to 6-3 in district. The Wildcats will finish at home against Pittsburg, while Pleasant Grove will travel to last-place Atlanta.

Its playoff hopes still alive, L-E will travel to North Lamar, which has nailed down a playoff spot.

Canton grounds Hawks’ playoff hopes, 52-51

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Landon Jackson battles Canton's Cooper Smith (10) and Jackson Heard for the ball.

Eagles come out on top in physical battle

MOUNT VERNON – Some nights, the magic just isn’t there, and the other team gets to celebrate like it just won the Biggest. Game. Ever.

Canton (14-20) came to play, fought from opening tip to final buzzer, and emerged with a hard-fought, if unexpected, 52-51 bi-district playoff win over the Pleasant Grove Hawks Tuesday night at Mount Vernon High.

Down big early, Pleasant Grove battled back to eke out a 21-20 halftime lead. After that, It was a dogfight that saw eight lead changes and wasn’t settled until Luke Harmon’s desperation heave at the buzzer from the deep right corner fell a half-foot short.

Aaron Harmon sites in a bucket early in the game.

It was a surprising and sad ending to a season that saw Pleasant Grove, 21-6, capture its first district championship in four years.

“We had a great season,” said coach Bill Brewer. “The most important thing was teaching these kids the importance of team ball and playing with some heart.

“We moved the ball well in the second half and made some good stops, but our Achilles heel all year long was turnovers. We can’t win with 25 or more turnovers.”

The Hawks blocked the first two shots, but the Eagles hit the next three, including a flashy pair of long-range threes by junior Cameron Sullivan to drop PG to the bottom of an 8-0 hole less than two minutes into the contest.

For a while, the Hawks couldn’t buy a bucket, get a second shot on offense, or hold onto the ball.

It was 17-7 moments into the second quarter when senior point guard Griffin Young dropped in a three-pointer from outside the key.

Suddenly, things started to work. Passes started to find open men. Layton Jackson put back a missed shot for two points. Senior Xavier Benson made a twisting, acrobatic shot in front of the rim, was fouled, and completed the three-point play.

Aaron Harmon hit Noah Fawbush on a long outlet pass for two points, Kamren Woods hit a pair of foul shots to tie the game at 19. Luke Harmon dropped in two more to take the lead.

Canton came out of the locker room on fire. Dalton Williams and McGwire Martin, who led Canton with 13, both hit three-pointers to open the second half. Pleasant Grove reeled the Eagles back in, and even built an eight-point lead with 6:33 left in the contest, but a flurry of turnovers let Canton tie it 43 with 3:23 to play.

Neither team led by more than two the rest of the way. Benson led all scorers with 17 points. Aaron Harmon had 12.

“I’m proud of my seniors. We had a great short year with them and have a great nucleus coming back to build on next year. I wish we could have gone farther but we were blessed to win a district championship and make it to the playoffs for the seventh straight year.

I’m going to miss the Harmon boys, Luke and Aaron; Xavier Benson, Luke Bunel, Tevrin Jackson, Griffin Young, and June Heo,” Brewer said. “I am so proud of what they accomplished over the years. I hate to see them leave like this.”

Texas Sports Writers love the Hawks

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Photo by Bill Owney Pleasant Grove coach Josh Gibson tells his players they have just made history by completing the school's first-ever undefeated regular season with a 50-7 win over Gladewater.

Coach, eight players earn all-state honors

 

Caleb Porchia
 

TJ Cole

Nick Gavriel
 

Xavier Benson
 

Austin Toler
 

Cameron Wells

 

Josh Gibson is coach of the year and Caleb Porchia the defensive player of the year in the Texas Sports Writers Class 4A all-state football team which included eight Pleasant Grove players, according to the Houston Chronicle.

Tackle Nick Gavriel and fullback TJ Cole were named to the first team offense.

Xavier Benson earned second-team honors, as did defensive lineman Austin Toler and defensive back Cameron Wells.

Sophomore kicker Dillon Williams drills home a point-after out of the hold of Brett Walker.

A pair of underclassmen earned spots on the third team.

Freshman defensive lineman Landon Jackson, who led the team in three categories with 11.5 sacks, 16 tackles for loss 23 quarterback pressures, and was third in tackles with 98 tackles, was named to the third team.

Junior place-kicker Dillon Williams, who hit 86 of 89 points and seven of 11 field goals, was also named to the third team.

Landon Jackson reacts after sacking West Orange-Stark quarterback Chaka Watson in Class 4A state championship game.

Caleb Portia Texas Class 4A defensive player of year

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Photo by KEVIN COOK Caleb Porchia introduces himself to Graham quarterback Tucker Horn on the third play of the game. Xavier Benson, 3, closes in.

Hawk defense led by headhunter in the middle

If defense wins championships, Pleasant Grove started its quest for a 16-0 season with a leg up – a middle linebacker who would go on to become the Texas Sportswriters Class 4A defensive player of the year.

Caleb Porchia

Many an opponent went home with a headache and a sore body after running into Caleb Porchia, who set the school record with 196 tackles and was voted most valuable defensive player in the Hawks’ 41-21 win over West Orange-Stark state championship game.

Blake Worley, his position coach, said every award Porchia receives is merited.

“Caleb is more than deserving of being defensive player of the year. I feel truly blessed to have been his coach,” Worley said. “It was so rewarding to see him grow as a person and as a player throughout his high school career.

“Caleb is a selfless athlete who leads by example and is the best inside linebacker I have ever coached. In my opinion, his instincts and skill set are second to none. I couldn’t be more proud of Caleb and I know great things are in store for him moving forward.”

In the championship game, Porchia led both teams with nine tackles. He and freshman lineman Landon Jackson shared three sacks and three tackles for loss.

Porchia on Tuesday signed to play for Ouachita Baptist University.

Porchia flourished at Pleasant Grove in a 3-4 defense designed to seal the outside and flow the play to the middle, where the two Calebs – junior Caleb Hemphill and Portia – lurked like hungry hammerhead sharks. The system worked right through the title game, where PG held WO-S to 43 yards.

“From side-to-side, this is the best group of linebackers I’ve coached,” said Worley, their position coach. “There were no weak links. Every one of them was a player. They worked well together, they play very hard, and they were unselfish. They’re good athletes, they’re smart and they’re courageous.”

Any highlight film of Pleasant Grove’s championship season is sure to include a series of crushing hits by Porchia: A sack and fumble when the game was close against Celina, a fumble recovery in the end zone against Gladewater, a brutal pounding of high-flying Graham in the state semifinal.

The opposing coaches who knew him best made Porchia a unanimous pick as District 7-4A most valuable defensive player.

“Caleb Porchia is the best inside linebacker I’ve had the pleasure to coach.  He has great instincts to the football and makes a ton of plays,” said head coach Josh Gibson. “He’s one of the hardest hitters I’ve coached as well.  There is no doubt that Porchia will have a great college football career.  He’s a HUGE reason we are so successful on the defensive side of the ball.”

Cox a star at whatever he does

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Senior wideout Carson Cox and sophomore quarterback Ben Harmon celebrate in the final moments of a state championship win. Photo by Kevin Cook

Carson Cox was the leading receiver on Pleasant Grove’s 16-0 state championship team, amassing 842 yards and school-record 13 touchdowns on just 31 receptions.

Carson Cox

A pair of first-quarter TD receptions, of 90 and 60 yards, floored Gladewater early to give PG a district championship and its first undefeated regular season. A 30-yard TD reception, in which he outwrestled the defender for the ball, helped bury Aubrey in the area round. A 19-yard, first-quarter TD reception against Celina in the regional semifinal put the Hawks ahead to stay.

He tied a school record with a 31-yard TD against Melissa to help put the Hawks in the final four. In the state semifinal, he and quarterback Ben Harmon caught Graham in a blitz and connected for a 47-yard score.

In the championship game he got the Hawks a critical first down. On the next play, Harmon found T.J Cole running free at the 23. The big back sprinted to the pylon for the score to put Pleasant Grove up 14-6.

So what’s next for the all-state quality wideout? Baseball, at Wichita State.

Wait. What?

As it turns out, baseball is his first love and Cox is even faster patrolling centerfield without helmet and pads. Plus, he is a one-man offensive machine.

As a junior he hit .333, had a .444 on-base percentage, smacked 10 doubles, had a triple, knocked in 30 runs, scored 30, and stole 11 bases, which is a whole lot for a high school player.

“Carson is the type of player that loves to compete,” said Pleasant Grove baseball coach Riley Fincher. “He loves everything about the game of baseball.”

Cox, who plans to be a physical therapist, is an acknowledged gym rat.

“From the weight room, to practice, to the game, Carson is the guy that you want on your side because of the way he approaches every day,” Fincher said. “He is also one of the most humble people that you will ever be around. He leads by example and has been that way since the first day he stepped on campus.

The son of Billy and Lisa Cox, he started high school best known as the brother of Lisa, who went to Arkansas after winning state in the triple jump. Now there are two gold medals to hang in the family trophy case.

“I’m just excited to see what my future holds,” Cox said. “If I don’t get drafted into professional baseball, at least I’ll get a great education. It’s great to get my parents off the hook for paying for college.”

Pleasant Grove football coach and athletic director Josh Gibson will miss Cox, who came off the bench his sophomore year to quarterback the Hawks to the playoffs.

“Carson Cox has been one of the best leaders on this team for four years,” Gibson said. “He’s a freakish athlete that could play Division 1 baseball or football, and it is uncommon for many to get a chance at just one.

“The thing I love most about Carson is his temperament.  He’s a winner who everyone on this team enjoys being around.  He makes everyone better, coaches and players.”

Fincher said he expects Cox to be a key member of the Shocker baseball squad.

“Wichita State is getting a special talent,” he said. “His size, strength and speed, along with his talent and tireless work ethic will help him compete at the highest level next season at Wichita State.”