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Prepping for football: More to games than meets the eye

Pleasant Grove High players take to the field in a 2004 game. Prep football is more than games under Friday night lights \\\\— it's a build-up that begins early in the week
Pleasant Grove High players take to the field in a 2004 game. Prep football is more than games under Friday night lights \\\\— it's a build-up that begins early in the week
Dan Lund, for the Deseret Morning News

It's 9:19 p.m. Friday, Oct. 8, and scoreboard flashes the now-final score of Mountain View 26, Pleasant Grove 21. The visiting Vikings remain winless, another tough loss in a long high school football season dropping them to 0-8.

Pleasant Grove coach Dale Sampson, on the verge of tears, is barely able to utter his requisite post-game address to the team.

"I don't think we laid down and quit," a raspy Sampson tells the dirty, sweaty players assembled around him. "Things went wrong, and it just didn't happen."

The Vikings battled back from a 16-0 first-quarter deficit and four lost fumbles, only to come up short at the very end.

All the losing aside, Sampson and his squad have managed to find meaning amidst their odyssey of a season. For the Vikings, this week and all year long, it's the journey shared that has mattered more than whether they've won or lost.

Monday, Oct. 4, 1 p.m.

For a few hours every Monday, Pleasant Grove players watch film of their upcoming opponent while coaches strategize in an adjoining classroom.

This week's foe is Mountain View. The Bruins employ a variation of BYU's 3-3-5 defense; Viking coaches are confident that they'll be able to run the ball right at Mountain View. On defense, Pleasant Grove will key on containing Don Lovelace, the Bruins' athletic dual-threat quarterback who likes to roll out with the option to either run or pass.

Sampson is in his first year as head coach after 16 seasons assisting now-retired local icon Bill Mikelson. Sampson balances the demands of coaching with family, teaching and being an LDS bishop.

Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1:30 p.m.

The Vikings begin practice by working on what Sampson likes to call "specialty teams."

The sophomore team is today's scout-team fodder, imitating an opposing kickoff coverage unit. The 10th-graders are asked to run full tilt into a wedge of awaiting blockers, a task akin to purposely driving a car head-on into a brick wall.

The sophomores dutifully comply and, after a good knocking around, return to the lower field to resume their own practice.

Varsity breaks up into positional groups. Sampson exhorts the linemen with his deep, booming voice, encouraging his flock to employ techniques with names like bull rush, rag doll, and swim.

Assistant coach Kyle Sanderson bounces around practice, joking with players and exuding enthusiasm. In 1993, 11 years younger and 50 pounds lighter, the baby-faced Sanderson was a starting linebacker on the Vikings' state championship team; he now coaches special teams and helps out with the linebackers. As a sophomore reserve, offensive coordinator Steve Ruf also saw action on the '93 team

Teddy Owens, a linebacker/fullback and Pleasant Grove's marquee player, dons an oversized pair of red basketball shorts along with his shoulder pads and helmet; an ankle injury aggravated Monday keeps him out of contact drills today. The trainers say that he should be ready to go come Friday night.

Friday, Oct. 8, 5:35 p.m.

Sampson diagrams blocking schemes on a locker room dry-erase board one final time before boarding the bus to go to Mountain View.

To Sampson's right rests a box of brand-new t-shirts, earmarked for distribution to offensive linemen when the Vikings win a game.

The box is Pleasant Grove's ark of the covenant, traveling everywhere with the team without ever being opened.

Friday, 5:55 p.m.

The bus ride to Mountain View is too much for Mitch Sanderson to endure; the coach's younger cousin has fallen asleep, his head bobbing with the bus' every bump.

A scab on the bridge of Sanderson's nose came from his own helmet, self-inflicted proof that the sophomore running back is a heavy hitter.

Friday, 7:03 p.m.

The Vikings kick off to begin the game. When the Bruins return the opening kick 68 yards, Pleasant Grove's pre-game optimism is immediately drained on the very first play.

Friday, 7:27 p.m.

Thanks to the big kickoff return and a fumbled snap, the Vikings trail 16-0 before the first quarter has even ended.

Friday, 7:45 p.m.

After a few defensive stands, Pleasant Grove regains some momentum. Owens scores on a 15-yard run, making it 16-7 at halftime.

Friday, 8:55 p.m.

Owens scores his third rushing touchdown of the game, bringing the score to 26-21 midway through the fourth quarter.

With Pleasant Grove having lost four fumbles and had a 63-yard touchdown pass negated by an offensive pass interference penalty, it's a minor miracle that the Vikings are even in the game. The prospect of a first victory inebriates coaches and players alike.

Friday, 9:07 p.m.

On fourth-and-7 in Mountain View territory with 1:32 remaining, Vikings quarterback Justin Herrera throws a nice nine-yard hitch to Jake Hoyt. The ball, however, goes through Hoyt's hands, off his shoulder pads, and out of bounds, landing mere feet from the box of unopened shirts stored beneath the Pleasant Grove bench.

On Monday, coaches will learn that Hoyt suffered a concussion in the early going; he'll remember very little about the game from the second quarter on.

Epilogue

The Viking linemen will wait to open their box of shirts. The fact that the players battled back from such a large deficit proves they haven't given up on themselves or their coaches.

Although the burden of not getting that elusive first victory weighs heavily on the rookie head coach, Sampson tries to maintain perspective.

"The reality is that I'm doing what I planned on doing all my life," he says. "The best part of my job is still my association with the young men; that's why I got into this business in the first place."