Pleasant Hope High School football coach Josh Evans is holding a blocking pad, lined up alongside the scout team defense before the snap at a team practice Wednesday, Aug. 14.
“Is this the old Pleasant Hope?” he asks.
A chorus of “No,” from all players briefly drowns out a nearby set of speakers playing classic rock hits.
The ball snaps, but the play doesn’t go off as planned. They run it again until every route is run cleanly, no blocks are missed and the offense has moved down the field and into the end zone.
Ownership was the theme for the team this offseason, Evans says, and every player bears the responsibility for its future.
“Everyone has to take initiative to be an effective leader and cause the team to win,” he says.
Evans, a 2013 Pleasant Hope graduate, is in his first year leading the Pirates as head coach.
After walking on to the football team at Evangel University, Evans says he saw God change his life through football. He returned to Pleasant Hope as a wide receiver and linebacker coach and replaced Scott Wolf as head coach this year.
“I am excited to use this sport to change their lives like football did for me,” Evans says.
Hoping for a restart following a span of winless seasons, Evans says the team first worked on its culture.
“The best way to do that is wake up really, really early and work really, really hard,” he says. “I made these boys uncomfortable all summer. We spent time talking about life and adversity, and they stuck around and grew both in size and strength, but also in character and leadership.”
The Pirates continue to struggle with recruiting enough players. MSHSAA lists the Pirates with 18 players.
But where the team may have previously looked at that as a weakness, Evan says they see their small roster as a strength and a source of pride.
“Every one of my players can play any position at any time,” he says. “If any one ever needs a breather, it is easy to plug someone else into that position because of the design of our playbook.”
Evans says that playbook features a key group of returning varsity starters.
Quarterback Brendle McDaniel is evidence of the team’s transformation, Evans says. The senior may also see time as a defensive end, he adds.
“Brendle is a natural born leader and has put more time in the weight room in the summer than he ever has,” Evans says. “Brendle is a workhorse and a guy I can trust to grind out the tough yardage with the ball in his hand.”
A linemen on both sides of the ball, Preston Carpenter-Ford has worked hard on his speed and can get downfield to make blocks and create big plays, Evans says.
Fellow linemen Matthew Burdette and Mason Williams should also see time on offense and defense, Evans says.
Burdette, Evans says, “communicates well, keeps the guys focused and has the classic country boy strength that makes him dangerous if he gets his hands on you.”
Williams has become one of the strongest, fastest and most disciplined players on the team, Evans says.
“He is fast, explosive and will be a threat sideline to sideline,” the coach says.
As a lead blocker, fullback/linebacker Nathaniel Trujillio is incredibly selfless, Evans says. He also hits hard, the coach added.
“Nathaniel is probably the toughest kid on our team,” he says.
Cody Mitchell, an offensive lineman and linebacker has made the transition into “an impressively fast fullback,” Evans says.
“His toughness and experience will make him a tough guy to meet at the line of
Scrimmage,” he says.
Two-way lineman Domenick Henderson has been one of the most coachable kids on the team,” Evans says.
“If I told him to run through a wall for me, he would, and he’s got the size, strength, and speed to cause chaos on both sides of the ball,” he says.
Newcomers to the program include Andrew Page, Damon Lockmiller and Cooper Choate.
Page could see time at wide receiver and defensive back, Evans says.
“Andrew is another guy that brings a lot of speed to the team; his elusiveness in the open field will be exciting to see,” he says.
Lockmiller’s speed and aggressiveness have the team excited, Evans says. The player could also find a role at wide receiver or defensive back, he adds.
Choate may file in on the offensive and defensive line, Evans says.
“Cooper is a big boy with a high motor, and I am super excited to see what he can do with some pads on,” he says.
Looking over a schedule that starts against Marionville at 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 30, in Marionville, Evans says the team hasn’t identified any rivalries.
“We want to beat everyone,” he says.