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Mountain Pointe junior middle linebacker Rashion Hodge says help from a knowledgeable source – his brother, Rashie, who was one of the best in the state at the position two years ago – is helping him grow into the leader of a stingy Pride defense.   Zach Alvira/Tribune Staff

Pride linebacker Hodge emerging as playmaker on stingy defense

Mountain Pointe’s Rashion Hodge knew at a young age that he was destined to be a linebacker.

He heard stories about his father playing it at South Mountain High and he saw his older brother, Rashie, transform into one of the best linebackers in the state as a senior for the Pride in 2016.

Rashie went on to play for South Dakota State but has since transferred to Glendale Community College as a running back.

With his brother back in the Valley, Rashion uses Rashie as a resource for advice, and it seems to be working.

“I picked a lot up from my brother,” Rashion said. “He taught me how to work hard. He had to work his way up to where he was. He worked hard and made a name for himself on varsity.”

Now a 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior, it’s Rashion who is starting to make a name for himself.

Through the Pride’s first three games, Hodge leads the Pride with 23 tackles, including one for a loss and a safety against Mountain View.

Last Saturday, Hodge and the Pride took on national power South Jordan (Utah) Bingham High, ranked 15th, in the Polynesian Classic in Henderson, Nevada. Despite the 21-14 loss, Hodge registered 11 tackles.

It’s not easy for a junior to take control of an experienced defense.

“He is becoming a leader in the right way and that’s what we look forward to,” Mountain Pointe linebackers coach Brandon Whitener said. “He is already barking at guys if they line up in the wrong spot. That’s a good thing because he knows what is going on around him and will help him play even faster.”

Hodge has speed and range. His ability to run from sideline to sideline and maintain his balance while making a hit are traits that have jumped out to Whitener and the rest of the coaching staff in their first season at Mountain Pointe.

Beyond that, it’s Hodge’s length. His long arms give him the ability to shed an opposing blocker and make a play.

“You look at him and without bending over he can almost scratch his knee caps,” Whitener said, laughing. “That’s a long kid, and being able to run and still move and work in space is impressive.”

It’s been a seamless transition for Hodge under new head coach Rich Wellbrock and his staff.

Along with Whitener, Hodge has learned the Pride’s new defense from coordinator Conrad Hamilton, who spent six years in the NFL as a defensive back.

From the style of coaching to the overall scheme, Hodge said he feels like there is a new vibe about the Mountain Pointe program, one that will lead to success.

“We have a different level of coaching now,” Hodge said. “There is more of a college feel here now. Coach Hamilton knows how colleges and pros work and we know that we need to listen to him because he has the experience.

“I’ve learned a lot from him and Coach Whitener, like breaking down in pass coverage and foot work.”

Only three games into his first varsity season, Hodge has yet to receive a Division 1 college offer but that doesn’t mean there aren’t schools interested. They’re waiting to see how Hodge pans out. Hodge said the Oregon State coaching staff, where former Pride players Timmy Hernandez and Wesley Payne play, has expressed interest.

Whitener, however, hopes Hodge remains under the radar for the duration of the season. He believes that would allow Hodge to further improve.

“As a first-year starter, it can put a lot of pressure on a kid to perform, especially coming after his brother, who had a lot of success at Mountain Pointe,” Whitener said. “Right now, I just want him to be his own guy and understand what he needs to do with this defense. I want him to carve out his own path as far as what his future is going to entail.”

Exactly what his path is remains to be seen, but with coaches in place who want him to succeed, as well as an older brother sharing advice from his time playing the same position, Hodge is on the path to becoming one of the best linebackers in the class of 2020 in Arizona.

Before that, he has another goal in mind.

“I’m just trying to execute and work hard,” Hodge said. “I want to be the hardest-working man on the field and get my team to the championship.”

Mountain Pointe defense is fast and punishing led by CB Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson Richard Obert, azcentral sports

Mountain Pointe DB Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson driven by mom’s spirit

, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:00 a.m. MT Aug. 23, 2018 | Updated 3:29 p.m. MT Aug. 23, 2018

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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.”

Mountain Pointe High’s LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson (left) says values instilled by his late mother helped him develop into an elite football player. The cornerback-receiver has offers from nine Division I schools, including Florida, Missouri and Nebraska. Mountain Pointe opens Aug. 24 at Pinnacle.    Zach Alvira/Tribune Sports Editor

Pride’s Pleasant-Johnson excels as loss of mother burns in his mind

The road has been rugged for Mountain Pointe High’s LaCarea Pleasant-Johnson, yet he has persevered, just as someone special to him would have wanted.

Among the gut-kicks that life deals, his greatest disappointment is that his mother did not get to see him become one of the best defensive backs in the nation.

“My mom really instilled the motivation I have in myself,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “I really do work hard for her.”

Jacquel Pleasant lost her battle with Stage 4 kidney cancer in 2011.

LaCarea was just 11 years old.

“I heard my uncle on the phone say, ‘I have to go to the hospital to see if my sister has cancer,’” Pleasant-Johnson. “I was torn.”

When Pleasant-Johnson was a child, his mom would wake him early to go for a jog, always making him stay active as he got into athletics.

She always asked how he was doing when they sat down for dinner, offering words of wisdom during times of struggle.

Those memories have stuck with Pleasant-Johnson.

“She’s my protector, my provider. She’s always on my side,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time. God gives the hardest battles to his strongest warriors.

“My mom played a big role in the person I am today.”

Pleasant-Johnson is a team captain and a vocal leader of the Pride defense on the field. Those around him say his personality brings out the best out in people off the field.

“He is always in a good mood,” new Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock said. “He’s always got a big smile. He went through a lot when he was younger, but he always brings a light to every room he walks into.”

Wellbrock acknowledges that he didn’t know much about Pleasant-Johnson when he took over the program in February.

He had heard of a player getting attention from numerous college programs, but Pleasant-Johnson shocked Wellbrock with just how athletic he is.

“He’s got the DNA and is so long that he is able to get to places other athletes aren’t able to get to from a defensive back and receiver standpoint,” Wellbrock said. “His athleticism allows us to do some things on defense other teams I have had wouldn’t be able to do.”

Pleasant-Johnson, rangy at 6-foot-2, 180-pounds, will cover some of the best receivers in the state. He’ll likely be busy when Mountain Pointe opens Aug.24 at Pinnacle, with Oklahoma-bound quarterback Spencer Rattler tossing the ball.

New Pride defensive coordinator Conrad Hamilton loves the flexibility that Pleasant-Johnson gives him.

“I’ve never had a corner with his size and length,” Hamilton said. “He’s really a receiver by nature but has upside with his ability to learn the different techniques on defense.”

Pleasant-Johnson was primarily a receiver coming into Mountain Pointe. Last season, he led the Pride with 27 catches for 436 yards and four touchdowns. This season, he plans to focus more on defense, but Wellbrock said that Pleasant-Johnson likely will still be in the mix on the other side of the ball, too.

“We want to make sure we have the right match ups in every game,” Wellbrock said. “One week, that might be LaCarea playing on another side of the ball and another week it could be someone else.”

Pleasant-Johnson’s ability to play on both sides has boosted his college recruitment. Rated as a three-star cornerback, he has offers from nine Division I programs, including Florida, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa State.

Pleasant-Johnson has a top five but isn’t ready to announce it because he anticipates that more offers may come and his rating could improve as recruiters get more film of him.

The thought of playing college football is always there, but as he begins to navigate his senior season, he has two goals: Win a championship and make his mother proud.

“Not a lot of people can handle what I’ve been through,” Pleasant-Johnson said. “I am blessed. My mom really instilled the motivation I have in myself and I feel like since she passed the sky is the limit.”

MP adds Conrad Hamilton as defensive coordinator and Ross Crow as offensive coordinator.

Mountain Pointe adds ex-head coaches Conrad Hamilton, Ross Crow as coordinators

, azcentral sportsPublished 11:07 a.m. MT March 28, 2018

Phoenix Mountain Pointe continues to make moves beyond the Norris Vaughan era with new head coach Rich Wellbrock adding Conrad Hamilton as his defensive coordinator and Ross Crow as offensive coordinator.

Both men were ran high school programs in the Valley.

Hamilton was head coach at both Phoenix North Canyon and Scottsdale Chaparral. He was defensive coordinator on two of Chaparral’s state championship teams during the Charlie Ragle era.

Crow led Avondale Agua Fria’s program the last two years. Before that, Crow was head coach at Phoenix Sierra Linda.

“I’m just excited for our kids, to get to be coached by a staff that both Ross and Conrad has helped me put together,” Wellbrock said of the coaching additions. “I know the community is really excited.”

Wellbrock said that Hamilton is bringing his defensive coaches from Chaparral with him.

Crow also is bringing help, according to Wellbrock.

“I’ve kind of given him and Ross a little leeway hiring their own guys,” Wellbrock said. “At this level, you’ve got to have guys you can trust.”

Pride stocked with talent once again

Mountain Pointe again figures to have one of the best teams in the state with the return of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, running back Jakim McKinney and offensive lineman Deandre Henry. Mountain Pointe also has one of the top defensive backs in the West in Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson.

Crow was offensive coordinator at Surprise Shadow Ridge before he became head coach at Sierra Linda, where he was 7-13 in two seasons. His Agua Fria teams went 2-8 and 1-9.

Hamilton teaches at Chaparral, but the Firebirds went out of state for their next head coach, hiring offensive-minded Brent Barnes, who had a successful run at Norman (Okla.) North, where he was 26-9 in three years.

Nine of Hamilton’s 10 years coaching high school football in the Valley was spent at Chaparral. He was head coach at North Canyon for one season, before returning to Chaparral. He was the DC at Chaparral on two of the state title teams while Chaparral strung together three championships in a row from 2009-11.

Hamilton left Chaparral as head coach in 2016 to join Todd Graham’s staff at Arizona State as a defensive analyst. He returned to Chaparral last year back in his role as defensive coordinator under Thomas Lewis.

Hamilton is a fiery coach, just like Wellbrock.

How will that mix on the sideline?

“When we’re fired up, we’ll keep an arm’s distance,” Wellbrock said. “We want the best for the kids.

“After we talked, we figured out it was a good union. I’m excited.”

Wellbrock, who was 2-8 in his only season leading Chandler Basha in 2017, says this will be much like his days at Goodyear Desert Edge, where he delegated to coordinators. The Scorpions had a big run under Wellbrook, leading to a state championship in 2015.