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FILM REVIEW: Heart and Soul: This is Texas HS Football - Sports documentary of the 2019 state championship Pleasant Grove Hawks football team of Texarkana, Texas

Mar 30, 2020

Thousands watched the 2020 sports documentary that premiered last night titled Heart and Soul: This is Texas HS Football. It follows the Pleasant Grove High School football team's journey to becoming the 2019 4A-D2 Texas state champions.

People around the state of Texas and beyond who have already had the chance to see the film will likely find many things to like about it — even if they are not particularly fans of sports documentaries.

However, followers of the Pleasant Grove Hawks and the most ardent fans of Texas high school football will immediately recognize it as a film with high production values and plenty of its namesake "Heart and Soul."

Indeed, one could imagine PG's top fans, such as sports columnist Caven Carpenter, jumping up and down in the big moments and shedding some tears during the tough times as coaches and team members talked about coping with a rollercoaster football season.

The movie's running time came in at a just-right one hour and seven minutes, but the intro extended the time an extra four minutes, which made it just over one hour and twelve minutes.

Producer Morgan Smith, president of Texarkana Gameday, did something extraordinary in the intro by thanking the film's editor and director Aaron Whitehead. And Whitehead is undoubtedly deserving of it.

However, Smith is definitely worthy of praise as well. A documentary like this is a labor of love that involved 5 am days and many late nights. Indeed, the hard work of both Smith and Whitehead shone through in every minute of the documentary.

The project is told mainly through the eyes of PG head coach and athletic director Josh Gibson, who is unquestionably the star of the film.

The "heart"

The project deserves five stars and not four or four-and-a-half for one simple reason: It delivered on the promise of its title by giving us clues and ultimately revealing the identities of both the "heart" and the "soul" of PG's 2019 championship football program.

At the beginning of the film, Coach Josh Gibson comes across as the tough and confident high school football coach. And he is portrayed as a leader that fits the mold of any state championship coach in the state of Texas.

There were statements from Coach Gibson like: "We have got to play full tilt and knock their heads off;" and "You better be ready to bring it."

In fact, any parent would dream of having their son coached by someone of his caliber because it is evident that Gibson wants his team to be the best in Texas and will do whatever it takes to reach his goal.

However, it was apparent as the film moved on that the questions being asked by the filmmakers were having an effect on Coach Gibson.

At times, he showed great emotion.

There were many examples of severe injuries during the Hawks' 2019 season, and it was evident that Coach Gibson felt every ache, strain, and break like it was his very own.

After a crushing defeat to Carthage in a non-district match-up, Coach Gibson's high character was on full display as he told the team members to move forward with heads held high and to remember to offer respect to their victorious opponent.

He told the team: "No one is going to look at you differently. We have to tip our hat to [Carthage]."

It's evident that the term "Heart and Soul" has its own meaning and symbolism to #HawkNation.

However, as far as the film is concerned, it slowly became apparent to viewers that Josh Gibson was the real "heart" of the 2019 state championship team.

As the documentary continued, frame after frame of the film showed Gibson slowly beginning to bare his soul to the camera.

In one of the most poignant scenes of the entire film, Coach Gibson's voice breaks with gratitude after he reveals that his brother (Justin Gibson, who is on the coaching staff) turned down a  salary with an extra $20,000+ a year to help him attempt to lead the Hawks to victory.

The "soul"

As Coach Gibson was revealed to be the "heart" of the movie, the identity of the "soul" of the film was still a complete mystery to viewers.

It was a "whodunnit" worthy of Agatha Christie that probably kept all but the most ardent Hawk fans in suspense until the end of the film.

However, the documentary gave us five worthy candidates for the identity of the "soul" in "Heart and Soul":
1. KJ Hicks: This charismatic senior is both natural and charming on the screen while making big plays that made #HawkNation talk.
2. Jackson Cobb: This top player tore his ACL and ended his high school football career at the top of the season, but he handled the news with grace.
3. Ben Harmon: The senior quarterback is shown as a workhorse and loyal friend to Cobb following his injury.
4. Connor Stanfill: This gentle player with a heart of gold showed quiet strength and resolve as he talked about an injury that sidelined his future on the field while basically becoming an additional team coach who trained his replacement.
5. Sergio Rodriguez: This player was definitely not the biggest man on the field, but he made plays that others could only dream about. Moreover, Rodriguez lit up the screen and showed himself to be both thoughtful and intelligent.

All of the above players faced adversity in 2019, but Coach Gibson reminded viewers that these moments could be valuable as character-building exercises  — even the soul-crushing loss against Carthage.

"You want your kids to have tough days," Gibson said "[Later] there are going to be some storms that hit them right through their teeth."

For a few moments as the state championship game against Wimberley played out in the film at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, it appeared that the identity of the "soul" might never be revealed.

That's because every candidate slowly faded from contention, and even quarterback Ben Harmon was not in top form as he was injured with a broken wrist.

But then utility player Antonio Watkins catches a pass from Harmon in his only catch of the year for a triumphant touchdown — a moment in time that will be talked about by PG fans for decades to come.

Could the "soul" of the team be revealed as a surprise choice, such as Antonio Watkins?

The reveal (spoiler alert)

Late in the film, it appeared that the filmmakers might leave it to viewers to guess the identity of the team's "soul."

After the state championship win, Coach Gibson was shown pouring praise on every single person in the program. So, at that moment, it seemed like the collective of Hawk players and coaches were going to be revealed as the joint "soul" of the 2019 Hawks football program.

"Everybody did their job the way they had to," Coach Gibson said. "All the kids and all the coaches. We couldn't have done it without them. So thankful to God for getting to live a dream... So many blessings have come together that we don't take for granted."

But there was one person in particular that drew universal praise.

When everyone, yes every person, was asked what made the team successful during the past three years, the answer was unanimous.

Then it became clear that the soul of the 2019 Hawk state championship football team was none other than quarterback Ben Harmon.

This is the same Ben Harmon who did not necessarily have his best game on the field during the state championship game because of injury. But he made up for it by showing leadership to the team from start to finish.

At the end of the state championship game, Coach Gibson disclosed that Harmon, a senior, was already focused on winning next year's state championship — when he will be in college.

As the coach and a few players were about to enter the press conference following the big game to answer questions from Texas' most prominent sports journalists, the injured Ben Harmon's mind was firmly on the future. Harmon stopped and told Coach Gibson and his teammates that it was vitally important that everyone fully support next year's team leader and never, ever doubt him.

"Ben Harmon is a tremendous leader," said Justin Gibson. "He is one of the best leaders I have ever been around."

Connor Stanfill described how hard Harmon played in the state championship game following his injury, and Sergio Rodriguez smiled as he recalled that he sometimes got tired of hearing the constant sound of Harmon's voice.

"The QB is always the general," Rodriguez said. "And this guy was the dude. I mean, he kept us in line. He was the one always bringing energy in practice... He drove this team."

A timeless sports story

Heart and Soul: This is Texas HS Football is a triumph of courage under pressure and a recognition that character can be built by both victory and defeat. The film has a timeless quality to it that will be appreciated by sports fans for years to come.

At the end of the documentary, viewers realize that the filmmakers have taken us through the entire Pleasant Grove Hawks 2019 season as a fly on the wall in what seems like only 25 or 30 minutes. Of course, the film is actually more than an hour long.

Producer Morgan Smith and Director Aaron Whitehead deserve great credit for keeping us guessing about the formula for the Hawk's 2019 success on the field (and off).

As we now know, the Pleasant Grove Hawk's 2019 state championship season all came down to this: A coach's pure "heart" and a quarterback's passionate "soul."

This sports documentary shows the hard work of average Texas young men with exceptional sports talent and gifted coaches who nurture these players who come together to form a championship team that is bigger than themselves.

Yes, this is Texas high school football — at it's most glorious.

About the author: BJ Jones is a graduate of the Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism at the University of Arkansas. His articles have appeared in a few hundred newspapers in the United States, including some of the largest papers in America (USA Today and the Chicago Sun-Times) and smallest ones while covering state elections as a young reporter. While he takes pride in having attended one of the Top 3 law schools in the world, he is most proud of returning to local journalism in 2019.

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