Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson raises his right arm, then his left.
On the right bicep, it says, “Jaqu31.” On the left, it reads, “Pleasant.”
His mother’s name, Jaquel Pleasant, run deep in his heart. The tattoos were put there after he moved from Washington two years ago and began his Phoenix Mountain Pointe football career as a long, athletic cornerback who remembers his mom pulling him out of trouble as a child and giving him paths to succeed.
She steered him into football, took him to his games and cheered from the sideline until she lost her battle to lung cancer when she was 31 and Lacarea was 11.
“Having to go through that was big,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “But I tell you what, not a lot of people can go through this. But I think I was chosen at that time, just like this.”
The time is now for Pleasant-Johnson to ball out on the field. He is a senior , one of the state’s top-recruited cornerbacks, an athletic freak at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, who wears jersey No. 31 to signify the age his mom died.
He’ll take her spirit with him Friday night at Phoenix Pinnacle, where he’ll be assigned to senior quarterback Spencer Rattler’s hottest receiver, perhaps Kaleb Covington, who averaged 38 yards on four catches against Perry.
Rattler is the big name in high school football in America. He came into the season ranked as the No. 1 prostyle quarterback in the nation in the 2019 class, a five-star, who this week was among the Chosen 25 by USA Today.
“Spencer is going to make plays, but we just have to know how to bounce back,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “He’s a great quarterback. But we also have a good defensive coordinator (Conrad Hamilton) and also a head coach (Rich Wellbrock).”
It will be a chance for Wellbrock and Hamilton to bounce back after being at different places last season.
Wellbrock won just two games in his only season leading Chandler Basha after taking Goodyear Desert Edge to two state finals, and winning a championship, during his West-side run.
Hamilton was defensive coordinator at Scottsdale Chaparral last year and appeared to be in the hunt to return as head coach, a position he once held there, before the Firebirds went out of state to hire Brent Barnes.
Mountain Pointe was left in great condition by Norris Vaughan, who resigned to return home to Georgia. The program under Vaughan’s watch has always been filled with tough, fast, physical athletes.
“The biggest thing is numbers and length,” Wellbrock said about comparing the athletes at Mountain Pointe to his time at Desert Edge. “This is the longest football team I’ve ever coached. Just from our DB and wide receiver and linebacker positions, our length is phenomenal. And we’ve got a lot of growth to make.
“What we see Friday night won’t be what we see when we move into October.”
Mountain Pointe has never lost to Rattler, who is in his fourth year as the varsity starting quarterback at Pinnacle.
Wellbrock embraces the pressure that comes with keeping up Vaughan did to make the Pride a powerhouse.
“We all know what we signed up for,” Wellbrock said. “When these kids come to Mountain Pointe, they know that type of pressure, that they’re going to be under the spotlight.”
Pleasant-Johnson is an engaging athlete, fun-loving, smiling, outgoing, driven — things his mom left him. His grandmother, he said, stepped up in his life after Jaquel died. His father, he said, lives in Seattle.
“Just the competitive drive, she left that with me,” he said. “Getting up at five in the morning to do a job. I play for her. She plays a significant part in my life.
“She was my confidence when I was a little kid. It could get ugly at times, but you have to stay strong.”