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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.”

Returning Mountain Pointe starters Nick Wallerstedt, at quarterback, and running back Jakim McKinney give the Pride a solid nucleus on offense. MP reached the 6A semifinals last season.  [Kimberly Carrillo/AFN Photographer]

Mountain Pointe reloads under new coach with eye on wins

One by one, players on the Mountain Pointe football team walked across the school parking lot to the practice field, placing a hand on the sign that reads “Mark Lovett Field” before entering.

It’s a tradition established in the early 2000s, after former coach and Mountain Pointe Hall of  Famer Mark Lovett passed away suddenly on the field from a heart attack.

“They told me I better make sure I do it,” new Mountain Pointe coach Rich Wellbrock said of touching the sign. “It’s a tradition handed down. It’s something the kids feel very strongly about.”

Wellbrock was hired to follow legendary coach Norris Vaughan, who stepped down last December to move back to Georgia near family.

Wellbrock, the former Basha and Desert Edge coach, now hopes to extend the winning tradition at Mountain Pointe, which has nine straight playoff appearances, including eight semifinals, and a state title.

“This has always been a position you look at from afar and it interests you,” Wellbrock said. “The kids know the expectations. We’ve flown under the radar a little bit, and we’re fine with that. When it’s time to turn it up, we will do that.”

This season, hopes for success once again start up front for the Pride.

Seniors Cole Cundary, Alex Vogel and Zach Quihuis anchor the offensive line in front of returning quarterback Nick Wallerstedt.

As a junior, Wallerstedt passed for 1,567 yards and 11 touchdowns. He also rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns.

Some of Wallerstedt’s top targets graduated, including Sky Hinojosa, Delano Salgado and Marshawn Gibson.

But a talented group of receivers remain, led by senior Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson.

“I think we have one of the best groups we have had in the past couple years as a core,” Wallerstedt said. “We have a lot of guys that other teams have to look out for.”

Pleasant-Johnson hauled in 27 passes last season for 436 yards and four touchdowns.

Seniors receivers Jatu Gipson, Bashu Delco, Jathan Washington and junior Dominique Davis also will play a vital role in the passing game. Seniors Kenneth Lofton and Jerrick Dickson lead the way at tight end.

Mountain Pointe lost 1,000-yard rusher Gary Bragg to graduation but have another back, Jakim McKinney.

McKinney, known for his explosive burst off the ball, rushed for 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns.

“I’m excited because it is my senior year,” McKinney said. “I’ve learned a lot from the new coaching staff. Even though people have doubted us, we are going to show them that we can make it far and even win state.”

Graduation and transfers left holes to fill in the Pride’s defense.

Defensive tackle Shomari Hayes graduated. Senior Matthew Pola-Mao, who has the eye of many college recruiters, transferred to Chandler. In the secondary, seniors Delano Salgado, Kenny Churchwell, Marshawn Gibson and Donte Lindsey all moved on to the next level.

But Mountain Pointe has capable replacements, starting up front with defensive tackle Anthony Dedrick.

“We are filling in the gaps really well,” Dedrick said. “I know what this team is and what we can do. We just need to be the greatest we can be and just go out there and play football.”

Mountain Pointe opens a week later than many schools with an Aug. 24 visit to Spencer Rattler and the Pinnacle Pioneers in north Phoenix.

It’s the start of one of the toughest schedules in the state.

Next up is a home game against rapidly improving Mountain View before the Pride heads to Las Vegas for the Polynesian Football Classic to take on national power Bingham High from South Jordan, Utah.

“What a great opportunity for our kids, community and school to be involved in something like this,” Wellbrock said. “That’s what we want. We want to be on the biggest stage not only here in the state but on the biggest stage nationally.”

Mountain Pointe then faces Hamilton, Queen Creek and Highland before taking on Desert Vista in the annual Ahwatukee Bowl.

The Pride wrap the season against Chaparral, Desert Ridge and Corona del Sol.

It will be a tough initial go-around for Wellbrock and the Pride, but they believe that they are up to the challenge.

“The schedule is brutal, but it’s exciting,” Wellbrock said. “The kids know it’s going to be a grind.

“Hopefully, when November comes around we will have learned everything we need to and go push for the gold ball.”

Mountain Pointe High School football practices with new coach Rich Wellbrock on July 25, 2018. Nick Oza/azcentral sports

Mountain Pointe enters new era with coach Rich Wellbrock

, Arizona RepublicPublished 7:06 p.m. MT July 25, 2018

Rich Wellbrock keeps seeing Spencer Rattler.

In his first loss as Chandler Basha’s coach last season, Wellbrock watched the Phoenix Pinnacle quarterback carve up his defense with four touchdown passes.

When he saw Rattler with his Oklahoma visor this June at 7-on-7 passing tournaments, Wellbrock would joke with him.

“I told him, ‘I just can’t get away from you,’ ” Wellbrock said.

For better or worse, Wellbrock will see Rattler again on Aug. 24 when Phoenix Mountain Pointe begins its Wellbrock coaching era. Rattler is 0-3 in his varsity career leading the Pinnacle offense against the Pride.

Mountain Pointe is moving past the Norris Vaughan era, a tough transition for any coach.

Vaughan set the bar extremely high. Mountain Pointe reached no less than the 6A state semifinals in eight of Vaughan’s nine seasons as coach.

His 2013 team was the last Arizona team to beat national powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman. It opened the season with a win at Bishop Gorman on national TV on its way to a 14-0 record and the school’s only state championship.

Wellbrock is an established coach (he won a state championship at Goodyear Desert Edge), and he brought with him one of the best defensive coordinators in the state in Conrad Hamilton, who served in that capacity for two of Scottsdale Chaparral’s state championships in the Charlie Ragle era.

“It’s still going to be punishing,” said senior cornerback Lacarea Pleasant-Johnson, who is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, has a long wingspan, off-the-charts athleticism and picked up eight college football offers in one week.

“Us losing Coach Vaughan, we didn’t lose nothing much. We’ve got a great head coach and defensive coach coming in. We come in with a lot of energy. We can run cover 1, 2, 3, 4. We’re going to execute. This is going to be a good season.”

Mountain Pointe will soon see how good it still is as it transitions from it’s greatest football era under Norris Vaughan.  Richard Obert, azcentral sports

Wellbrock will lean heavily on a loaded, fast defense, especially up front where he has three guys who could dominate off the edge.

Mountain Pointe’s offense may have a faster tempo than it did under Vaughan and should remain electric.

But who will lead it?

Wellbrock has two good quarterback options – the veteran Nick Wallerstedt and the ultra-athletic Ahmen Williams, who is ready to break out.

“Nick has done a phenomenal job, great kid,” Wellbrock said. “The other young man is a senior. They had even reps all summer. Now it’s ‘Who’s going to be the best leader?’

“I think both kids are tough kids and they’re going to want us to win football games. And that’s the biggest thing.”

Key returners

A punishing, big-play run game and physical defense have always been the Pride’s strong suits, and this team should be no different with running back Jakim McKinney (5-foot-8, 175 pounds) fresh off leading the Pride last season with 1,334 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing.

Wallerstedt is back after passing for 1,567 yards and rushing for 711 yards and totaling 20 TDs.

Pleasant-Johnson had 10 pass breakups, leading a fast secondary.

Defensive end Kenneth Lofton (6-3, 220) had 12 sacks.

Ready to break out

Senior slot Jathan Washington (5-9, 155) has a gear seldom seen on the field. He carried the ball just 10 times last season but averaged more than nine yards a carry. He could be electrifying on bubble screens, getting him out in space.

Defensive end Anthony Dedrick and tight end Jerrick Dickson are monsters on a front line that will make it tough for offenses to get going.

Safety Jatu Gipson is about to emerge as a star in the secondary.

Junior wide receiver Dominique Davis (6-1, 165) is ready to make his name as a big-play threat.

Key date

Mountain Pointe opens Aug. 24 at Phoenix Pinnacle, where it will try to keep Rattler, the No. 1-ranked 2019 QB in the nation, from beating the Pride for the first time in his career.

Final word

“I feel like they really understand what is going on with us and team and they’re trying to make us get better and win state.” – RB Jakim McKinney.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him at twitter.com/azc_obert.

New Mountain Pointe football coach Rich Wellbrock directs the Pride during a 7-on-7 tournament at Arizona State on June 8. 

Rich Wellbrock leads new era of Pride football

 

Rich Wellbrock understands that he is following a football coaching legend at Mountain Pointe High.

“This is on Mount Rushmore, as far as programs go,” Wellbrock said during a break from his first summer of drills as coach of the Pride.

“Everybody looks from the outside and sees Mountain Pointe as one of the top programs in the state and nationally.”

If Mountain Pointe is on the Mount Rushmore of high school football, the man Wellbrock follows could be there, too. Norris Vaughan’s teams built a dynasty during his nine years as Pride coach, going 99-19 before resigning in December and moving to Georgia to be closer to family.

Three weeks ago, Vaughan was named offensive coordinator at Athens Clarke Central High.

“When you get to a program like this, you already know the expectations. It’s exciting and that’s what we’ve all signed up for. We all came to this program to be part of the conversation,” Wellbrock said.

That conversation involves teams contending for a state championship, which has become tradition at Mountain Pointe. Vaughan’s teams appeared in the title game three times and won the state title in 2013. They reached the final four – the big-school state semifinals – in eight of his nine years.

While Wellbrock said his relationship with Vaughan was purely professional, he doesn’t hide his admiration for him.

“He’s built such a tradition here,” Wellbrock said. “They play hard-nosed football and obviously he has moved this program into another stratosphere.”

Not every coach is up for following an act like that, yet former Mountain Pointe principal Bruce Kipper, who recently moved into Temppe Union High School District’s athletic director position, fielded applications from dozens of coaches with winning pedigrees who wanted to give it a try.

Not all of them were right for the circumstances at Mountain Pointe, Kipper said.

Because Wellbrock had a long run of success on a campus similar to Mountain Pointe’s – Desert Edge in Goodyear – Kipper said that Wellbrock was the best fit for the Pride.

It was an opportunity Wellbrock couldn’t pass up. He, too, saw the parallels: kids with character, work ethic and chips on their shoulders to succeed in an elite program.

Kipper said at the time that he regarded last season as an anomaly on Wellbrock’s resume.

In one year as coach at Basha, the Bears were a disappointing 2-8. That flew in the face of Wellbrock’s tenure at Desert Edge, where his teams won 75 games in seven years, including a state title in 2014.

Wellbrock has a talented roster to uphold Mountain Pointe’s legacy. He expects big things from Jatu Gipson, Anthony Dedrick, Rashion Hodge and Jerrick Dickson.

He also is complimentary of quarterback Nick Wallerstedt, the returning starter, although Wellbrock has yet to publicly announce a starter.

“It took him a little bit to get that throwing motion changed,” he said of Wallerstedt, who also starred on the baseball diamond for the Pride. “He’s had a really good summer and he’s excited about the offensive changes we’re making. What a great kid.”

The Pride faithful can expect more hard-nosed football with a few exceptions: Wellbrock hopes to open up the playbook.

“We want to make the tough runs when it’s time. That’s Mountain Pointe football. But we’re spreading it out a bit more.

“Hopefully we’ll have a little bit more diversity within the offense. We’d like to see our receivers get the ball in space,” Wellbrock said.

The Pride offense and defense will be put to the test immediately, as they open at Pinnacle on Aug. 24 against top quarterback prospect Spencer Rattler, who is headed to Oklahoma next year.

“We’re just excited to be done with this 7-on-7 stuff and really get to working on the 11-man grind,” Wellbrock said. “I’m very excited about the opportunity.”

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.

 

Rich Wellbrock has officially been named as the new head coach at Mountain Pointe.

The hire comes after former Pride head coach Norris Vaughan resigned in mid-December after nine seasons. Vaughan led Mountain Pointe to three state championship appearances, one of which resulted in the title in 2013.

“It’s a unique opportunity because of the area and what Coach Vaughan has been able to build,” Wellbrock told Sports360AZ. “From an outsider’s view it’s right place right time. I’m very excited and happy to be leading that program.”

Wellbrock comes to the Pride after spending one season as head coach at Basha. Before Basha he spent seven seasons at Desert Edge where he led the Scorpions to a 74-16 record and a state title in 2014.

Mountain Pointe is a run-based program known for having solid lineman. The Pride’s style of play is one that Wellbrock is familiar with from his tenure at Desert Edge.

“It’s hard-nosed running football,” Wellbrock said. “The pieces that they’ve had and the history of the lineman and how well coached they’ve been, it’s a fit for me and my style of coaching.”

Wellbrock became familiar with 6A during the 2017 season at Basha.

“Every week is a dog fight,” Wellbrock said. “There’s no easy opponent each week and the coaching is so good. It’s all about the preparation you put in for the 48 minutes each week.”

As for the difference between coaching in 4A to coaching in 6A, Wellbrock said the biggest difference is the depth of players the schools have.

“You have to have kids ready to go,” Wellbrock said. “I think the biggest thing between the conferences are the (first teams) are pretty good in each conference.” 

The biggest thing that Wellbrock said he will take away from his year with the Bears is “stick to your vision.”

“What you know, what you’ve learned, from my experiences, as well as my mentor, sometimes you go astray from that,” Wellbrock said. “It’s that grind though, it’s that jumping up and making sure the kids are prepared after a tough loss.”

Rich Wellbrock, hired at Mountain Pointe, coached at Basha for one season and at Desert Edge before that. (Photo: Sean Logan/azcentral sports)

Phoenix Mountain Pointe hires Rich Wellbrock as next football coach

, azcentral sportsPublished 12:14 p.m. MT Jan. 23, 2018

Rich Wellbrock and Phoenix Mountain Pointe believe there is a fit that will help the Pride prosper past coach Norris Vaughan and continue to contend for 6A state football championships.

Wellbrock’s swagger and style didn’t resonate in his one-season at Chandler Basha, where the Bears went 2-8 last season.

He will get a reboot to his career after being named the new Mountain Pointe on Tuesday.

“It’s a unique opportunity, too good to pass up on,” said Wellbrock, who will also teach at Mountain Pointe. “I can’t wait to get there.”

Wellbrock built west-side Goodyear Desert Edge into of the most formidable football programs in the state, leading the Scorpions to a state championship three seasons ago.

But in his only year at Basha, he had 10 players quit the team and the Bears won just two games.

“I think it’s a unique opportunity that fits for Rich Wellbrock and for Mountain Pointe,” he said.

Rich Wellbrock selected as new Mountain Point High head football coach – Special to AFN

Rich Wellbrock poised to become new Pride football coach

By Greg Macafee AFN Sports Editor | January 23, 2018

The Pride have found the new leader of their pack.

Tempe Union High School District officials announced Tuesday they would recommend that the governing board approve Rich Wellbrock as the new head football coach at Mountain Pointe High School.

“We are excited to welcome Coach Wellbrock to Mountain Pointe High School,”   Principal Bruce Kipper said in a release. “His wealth of experience, success at the state level, and working in diverse school settings tells us he is the right guy for our school community.”

The next governing board meeting is Feb. 7 and an agenda has not yet been set, so it is unclear if formal action on the recommendation will occur then.

Wellbrock has been around the Arizona high school football scene for several years, with an overall coaching record of 93-48. He has coached at Tolleson, Desert Edge and most recently, Basha high schools. He only spent one year at Basha, compiling a 2-8 record in the 2017 season.

Before last season, Wellbrock headed the Desert Edge football program from 2010-2016 amassing a 75-14 record, including a state championship in 2015, when the Scorpions defeated No. 1-seeded Paradise Valley in the Division III state championship, 29-27.

In 2013, Desert Edge also set a state record for team passing yards in a season, but also fell to Queen Creek in the 2012 Division III state championship.  

During Wellbrock’s state championship run, Desert Edge’s running game was phenomenal.

It set a new state record for team rushing by running for 5,046 yards and 69 touchdowns on 654 carries. Desert Edge also had four different rushers over 500 yards and two over 1,000 yards.

Behind Jakim McKinney and Gary Bragg, the Pride rushed for 3,801 and 45 touchdowns this past season. Wellbrock will see the return of a strong starting running back in McKinney, who led the Pride with 1334 yards and 19 touchdowns.

Wellbrock will have big shoes to fill at Mountain Pointe, as he’ll be taking over for longtime head coach Norris Vaughan, who retired to move back to Georgia to be closer to his family. The Pride also captured a state championship in 2014 as a part of an undefeated season.

Mountain Pointe is coming off a 10-3 season, and it fell to Brock Purdy and the Perry Pumas in the 6A state semi-finals.