The Pleasant Grove Vikings had homework to do last summer, studying the 2001 book “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins.
A one-sentence summary of the book, per moonshots.io, says the book “examines what it takes for ordinary companies to become great and outperform their competitors by analyzing 28 companies over 30 years, who managed to make the transition or fell prey to their bad habits.”
So what does that have to do with high school football?
The Vikings are a perennially solid team, have a winning overall record over their 81-year history, and last won a region title in 2013. They are a good team, but as coach Taylor Walkenhorst knows in his second year as coach, getting from “good to great” takes a lot of work, and Region 4 football demands that kind of dedication.
After a youth-driven 1-10 season in 2021 and a projected last-place finish in region standings this season, Pleasant Grove has burst out to a 4-1 start and a No. 3 ranking in RPI. The Vikings most recently defeated No. 7 Riverton, 24-21, last Friday with a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter.
“It’s a business book, but it can really be related to life,” Walkenhorst said. “The players really bought in to what is taught in that book, and that made a huge difference.”
In the Vikings’ win over Riverton, the leading power in the Region 3 race, it was the Silverwolves that had control of the game at multiple points, scoring first, then pulling ahead again in the second quarter with a haymaker disguised as an 87-yard punt return touchdown. The Vikings stayed strong, pulling ahead when senior quarterback Nic Staffieri connected with senior running back Jaedan Wright for a 35-yard touchdown early in the second half to make it 24-21. After that, it was all defense as Pleasant Grove ground out the win.
“One thing we preach is that regardless of what’s going on in the game, the scoreboard doesn’t exist,” Walkenhorst said. “What we focus on is if we are playing with great effort and great technique, and if we are having the discipline to execute the scheme … Each play has a life of its own.”
Speaking of Staffieri, the quarterback’s fate has drastically improved from his junior season where he finished with 1,203 passing yards, nine touchdowns and 11 interceptions for the season. In just five games, he’s collected 1,523 passing yards, 15 TD’s and only five interceptions, three of which were in one game, and his completion percentage is up from 54% to 64.9%.
“He’s been able to stay positive through adversity,” Walkenhorst said. “In that Green Canyon game, he threw a couple of picks in the first half. He had the ability in that situation to remain positive and to focus on each play one at a time.”
Preparing for a region schedule that includes American Fork, Skyridge, Lone Peak and Corner Canyon, the Vikings also picked up wins over Wasatch, Green Canyon, Orem and they played close in a season-opening slugfest with Region 1 frontrunner Farmington.
As good as last week’s win looked on paper, Pleasant Grove’s first week of Region 4 play this coming Friday is the defending champion Lone Peak Knights, and win or lose, it won’t get any easier than that down the road.
“What we look at is to make a step of improvement every single week,” Walkenhorst said. “That’s what I’m looking at — are we looking better than we were at the Riverton game? That’s what I’m worried about.”