E.A. Sports Today

Toughening up

Pleasant Valley has made strides in Jonathan Nix’ first two seasons, now the Raiders strive to be tough enough to finish

Ethan Borders (6) is part of the deepest set of running backs Pleasant Valley coach Jonathan Nix has ever had as a coach. (Photos by B.J. Franklin)


Coach: Jonathan Nix (2-18 PV, 2 years; 39-46 overall)

Aug. 25 – at Vincent
Sept. 1 – at Gaston
Sept. 8 – at Wellborn
Sept. 15 – Ohatchee
Sept. 22 – at Piedmont
Sept. 29 – OPEN
Oct. 6 – Glance
Oct. 13 – Randolph County
Oct. 20 – West End (Walnut Grove)
Oct. 27 – at Weaver
Nov. 3 – Spring Garden

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

JACKSONVILLE – The Pleasant Valley football team went through the last heavy day of the season-opener Game Week on Wednesday. In the last few minutes of the exercise, as coach Jonathan Nix does a couple times a week, he put the players through a drill designed to instill toughness.

That’s the word this year – toughness. The Raiders got off to their best start since 2007 in Nix’ second year last season, winning their first two games, but once adversity hit them in the toughest 3A region in the state they couldn’t find the magic again. The last five minutes of practice three days a week this year are devoted to “gut-check drills” that teach them to reach down in the final stages of the game, that it’s never over until it’s over.

“The first year we had to spend a lot of halftimes preaching on don’t give up, don’t tap out,” Nix said. “There were some tough kids on that team, but we had some who hadn’t gotten to that yet.

“Last year I felt like we had that toughness, but what we were missing was in the fourth quarter finding the reason why you’re supposed to win instead of a reason why you’re supposed to lose. It was almost like the first big mistake in the fourth quarter, if a ballgame was close, there’s our reason, our scapegoat, our whatever we want it to be instead of fighting tooth and nail to the last second and finding a way to win. That’s what we’ve really preached this summer.”

That toughness will be tested right out the gate. The Raiders play their first three games — and four of their first five — on the road, starting with tonight’s season-opener at Vincent. They open their region gauntlet with three physical games at Wellborn, against Ohatchee and at two-time state champion Piedmont. The open date after all that will be a welcome respite.

The Raiders have made the playoffs only four times in their history and have never won a playoff game. In a region where the top four teams all played each other in third round of the playoffs, what the Raiders do late in games could mean all the difference.

“This class wants to be that class to break through that, this team wants to be that team to break through that,” Nix said. “But you’ve got to make sure your work is matching up that.

“I tell our kids play each week because you never know. You have no idea how you get in and if you get a golden ticket to the playoffs you’re going to accomplish two tasks in one – you’re going to make the playoffs and you’re going to win (because the region will have prepared you). I do feel this team has that drive to want to be great.”

Defensive line and running back are the deepest spots on the roster. Dalton Page, Carson Brazier, Colby Nelson and Tristan Salster are listed as the starters, but there’s a healthy four-man rotation behind them. The rest of the defense will have leading tackler Alex Parris, Colton East, Ashton King and Ethan Borders at linebacker, Caden Turner, Nick Smith and Regan King in the secondary.

The Raiders are deeper at running back than Nix has been “in a long time” as a coach. Ethan Borders, Alex Parris and Colton East can all run the F, East and Jake Malsy the Z, and Regan King and Ashton King the H. “We’ve got seven, eight guys I’m really not afraid to put at any position,” Nix said.

The offensive line that was really young last season is a year older and enhanced with the insertion of a couple players from other positions. Brody Phillips and Regan King both will play quarterback, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Both of them have great qualities to help the team,” Nix said. “They’ve done a good job of handling the back and forth. in our region you’ve got to do whatever you can to make somebody prepare extra. The more you can get somebody to prepare for the better off you can be in our region. You still gotta be sound at what you’re doing, it’s a gauntlet every week.”

And that’s where the toughness comes into play. It started with the spring game against White Plains and carried on through the selective 7-on-7 and linemen camps they attended in the summer.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t put a lot of stock in the spring game, but if you’re going to play a spring game you need to be competitive or you need to win,” Nix said. “When you go in a spring game and it’s a blow out it takes a while to get everybody back on the page of believing.

“That’s what me and Chris (White, the White Plains coach) talked about for us two to play: It helps both the programs to be successful. It’s not healthy if you go into a spring game and get beat by 50-60 points and now you’ve got everybody not believing, and in the end who’s winning off of that?”

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