E.A. Sports Today


Whether in bumper cars or the bump and grind of football, Pleasant Valley sees reasons to go ‘all gas and no brakes’ in 2023

Cover photo: Pleasant Valley coach Jonathan Nix talks during Thursday’s preseason interview in the Raiders’ training facility. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Editor’s note: High school football practice has started, and East Alabama Sports Today editor Joe Medley has begun his annual round of preseason visits to football-playing schools in Calhoun County. Check out East Alabama Sports Today’s Facebook page for live interviews each weekday leading up to season openers. Columns and key facts will also appear at EASportsToday.com and our social-media platforms.

PLEASANT VALLEY — It’s August in Pleasant Valley, but not like recent Augusts in Pleasant Valley.

Jonathan Nix and his coaching staff didn’t have to don mining hats and scratch out enough players to survive a football season like a couple of years ago.

Joe Medley, Editor

Unlike 2022, the Raiders didn’t lose key players to injury before this August.

Nix has an experienced, healthy team that came within a couple of last-drive losses of breaking the school’s 13-year playoff drought a year ago. Based on a recent team-bonding trip to Oxford’s BigTime Entertainment, the Raiders are eager to mix it up.

“The go karts, you’re always worried, because they’re like, no bumping,” Nix said in Thursday’s preseason interview. “I’m not sure if the coaches got more warnings on that or some of the players. Once the helmets went on, the competitive nature went on in some of them.

“There were some that were all gas and no brakes, for sure.”
All gas and no brakes seems to describe the feeling around Pleasant Valley going into this season.

First, the Raiders start in a place where teams want to start in August. They couldn’t say that a year ago, when linebacker Luke Cranmer and running back/linebacker Zeke Curvin suffered injuries in the spring game and in a Jacksonville State University camp, respectively.

It’s not like a couple of years ago, when a couple of transfers dispirited things enough that Nix and staff had to make an emergency recruiting swing through the hallways. They wound up with first-timers and inexperienced older players.

Nix’s latest team checks off signs of football health.

The Raiders have a returning starting quarterback. Braxton Salster started as an eighth-grader in 2022 and has earned regard more often reserved for older players.

“The thing that the players and the coaches love the most about Braxton is his love of football,” Nix said. “You sense that. He has that it factor when he walks in the room. You can just tell he’s here for the work, but he’s also a great teammate.

“He brings other kids up, and there’s just something special about kids like that.”

Salster has proven skill around him in receiver/running back Holt Bentley.

Pleasant Valley also has depth and experience up front, something that always ups a team’s stock in the preseason buy-sell analysis.

The Raiders also have a not-far sense where they stand. They finished 2-4 in Class 2A, Region 6 a year ago, one spot out of the playoffs. Critical film watching of a 21-14 loss to Locust Fork and 7-0 loss to Southeastern revealed things that experience can fix.

“Early in the season and midway through the season, we lost some heartbreaking games,” Nix said. “Some of them were last-possession games.”

The Raiders found a way to turn those kinds of games into victories at the end of the season, beating Gaston 20-14 and Weaver 28-22 to send this year’s team into a hopeful offseason.

Add the surprise of Pleasant Valley’s new white helmets with Columbia blue-and-red highlights. Nix based the new look off of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and a study of school yearbook pictures.

Based on that study of tradition, the Raider head logo has given way to a Columbia blue “PV” logo with red trim. Two thin red stripes flank a thicker Columbia blue stripe down the center.

Nix likes the new red face masks for branding. He wants opponents seeing red after absorbing a head.

He also wants his players seeing red … as in charge! All gas, no brakes.

Unlike other years, there’s a feeling that nothing holds the Raiders back.

“It’s the first time that I feel like we’re not having to start from scratch with some stuff,” Nix said. “A lot of these kids had a lot of game experience last year, at a young age, and I think that’s really going to pay off with this year’s team.”

Pleasant Valley coach Jonathan Nix talks about the Raiders new 2023 helmet look during Calhoun County Quarterback Club Media Day in July. (Photo by Joe Medley)

Raider facts

Things to know about Pleasant Valley football heading into the 2023 season:

—  Jonathan Nix enters his ninth year as Pleasant Valley’s head coach and 15th year as a head coach overall. He’s 24-56 at Pleasant Valley and 61-84 overall with three playoff appearances, all at Ragland.

—  The Raiders went 4-6 overall, 2-4 (fifth place) in Class 2A, Region 6 in 2022. The Raiders seek their first playoff berth since making it three out of four years, between 2007-10.

—Key graduation losses from 2022 include the following All-Calhoun County players:  DB:  Dalton Haynes, RB/WR/S/DE Dason Vick, RB/LB/QB Zeke Curvin, LB/RB/WR Luke Cranmer, P Morgan Rich and OL Austin English.

—The following All-Calhoun County picks return: junior OL Grey Knight, senior LB Samuel Duncan, freshman QB Braxton Salster, senior RB/WR Holt Bentley, senior DL Connor Crump, sophomore S/RB/PR/KR/WR Jaydon Sparks, senior CB Hunter Sparks, junior S Clark Hill, senior S Bryce Freeman, senior OL Jackson Rose and senior OL Jeremiah Jones. 

— Players to watch: Salster started all 10 games as an eighth-grader and is seen as a team leader and voted one of the two toughest players on the day. Along with an apparent it factor, he has Bentley to catch his passes and an experienced line in front of him. Junior TE/LB Noah Johnson, who starred in baseball, has added football and basketball to his load.

— The Raiders have one of the area’s best new helmets … white with a red face mask, red and Columbia blue stripes down the center and a Columbia blue “PV” logo with red trim. The look is reminiscent of the NFL’s Houston Oilers, which moved and became the Tennessee Titans.

—Joe Medley

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