Born to play football: Plunk leaves legacy at Tascosa
Tascosa quarterback Joseph Plunk (5) breaks loose for a touchdown against El Paso Pebble Hills during a Class 6A Division II bidistrict game two weeks ago. [John Moore/ Press Pass Sports]
Cartoons? Sesame Street? Plug in a Disney movie?
For Debbie Plunk the choices to entertain her two-year-old son, Joseph, in front of the television weren’t the normal options.
Naw, Joseph knew exactly what he wanted and Lion King wasn’t it.
To keep Joseph entertained in front of the TV a football game of some sort had to be on.
“So Debbie would look for some ESPN rewinds of football games, or whatever games she could find, and get one on for Joseph,” said Ken Plunk, Joseph’s dad and head football coach for 11 years at Tascosa High School. “He loved it. He’d sit there and watch away. He didn’t want to watch cartoons.”
When the Tascosa Rebels, currently on one of the greatest playoff rolls in Amarillo ISD football history owning six playoff wins over the past 13 months, take the field Saturday for their Class 6A Division II regional semifinal game against Flower Mound Marcus the Rebs record-setting senior quarterback will be that same Joseph Plunk.
That kid who at age two who did the unthinkable for most kids choosing football over legendary purple dinosaur Barney.
Joseph’s two older brothers, Alex and Jacob, for sure liked football and excelled for the Tascosa Rebels, as well. But Joseph?
“I think so,” Joseph said. “I think I was born to play football. My dad being a coach. My mom being the drill team coach. When I was little in the backyard I’d go out there and throw passes to myself. I was the quarterback and receiver. I didn’t have to be a particular quarterback, I just wanted to be a high school quarterback.”
No doubt the Plunk’s are a football family devoted to Tascosa and the three boys have left a legacy, of sort.
Jacob graduated last year from Tascosa and was a standout on the Rebs defense. He also owns “Plunk Bro Bragging Rights” as his senior class reached the state semifinals.
Alex was a track standout and all-district defensive back for the Rebs. Alex’s senior class jump started the current Rebs playoff tradition reaching the third round of the 2015 6A-Division I playoffs falling in an epic game to Denton Ryan 41-34 played in Dick Bivins Stadium. Alex recently completed his senior season playing Division III football in California.
Ken has devoted his professional career to coaching football moving the family eight times before settling in the Amarillo-area over the last 13 years, at first Randall High (two years) and now Tascosa (11 years). Plunk has put Tascosa on the Texas football map with last year’s state semifinal run and backing it up this year with at least a third round run.
Debbie, a teacher at Tascosa, was the heart and soul behind founding the Tascosa Belles, a drill team that performs at many Tascosa high school sports events and parades, along with doing charity work.
“The Belles, oh, they work harder than the football team,” Ken says in a matter of fact tone of voice. “I tell them that all the time. And it’s true. I’m proud of what the Belles do for our school and stand for. I’m proud of Debbie. When I took the job at Tascosa, I took some criticism. But I saw something in this place few people outside saw. Of course, I wanted the football team to do well. What I saw is Tascosa could be the best overall big school in Texas. I believe we are getting there. “
Tascosa principal John Smith, a former basketball star at Dimmitt High and high school basketball coach before moving into administration, said the Plunk’s are the real deal.
“Ken and Debbie are all about the students,” Smith said. “They relish in seeing students experience success. They live as though Tascosa is a part of their extended family. It’s a blessing to work alongside them.”
And then there is Joseph.
“You know, I’ve never thought of it that way but maybe so,” Ken Plunk said when asked if Joseph was born to play football. “Growing up he couldn’t get enough of football. With Alex and Jacob they both liked football. But with Joseph it was different. We talk football. He wants to be a coach. He was always up here at the football office.”
Plunk gets set to throw against Amarillo High during a game earlier this season. [John Moore / Press Pass Sports]
Joseph said his passion for football only grew in strength as a young boy from hanging around his dad, the Tascosa players and the Tascosa football assistant coaches, many who have been with Ken for the majority of his 11 years at Tascosa.
“I was always up here at Tascosa,” Joseph said. “I just loved it. I like hanging around my dad. I loved the game of football and being around those involved in it. I also thought it was pretty cool hanging around the high school kids. From like second grade on my mom would drop me off after school and I would just hang out.
“Today I can say I just love the environment and culture here. Like Texas Tech basketball, you know how they have all that fun but are focused as well. That’s how it is here. My dad has taught me just keep my head on straight and don’t get too high or too low. Football has taught me character. And then the assistants here make it fun and are such good men. They are my role models.”
Joseph was a ballboy at Tascosa varsity games during his elementary years and into middle school. But he wasn’t your typical ballboy. His appetite for football included how to read defenses and run Tascosa’s new offense.
“When I was in the sixth grade and Tascosa changed the offense (to the Felxbone) I started asking my dad about how to understand it,” Joseph said. “I remember somebody coming over to the house to talk about the offense and I was just watching it and I became intrigued.”
By eighth grade, Joseph said he had a good grasp of the triple-option type offense which requires the quarterback to make quick decisions depending on how the defense defends each play. By his freshman year Joseph had learned about why and where the offense would attack defenses.
Tascosa veteran offensive coordinator Josh Ritchey is asked about Joseph being able to know the offense by middle school and if that’s normal.
He answers the question with his eyes, like, are you crazy.
“It may have been fourth or fifth grade when he knew our offense,” Ritchey says with a laugh. “He sees stuff you just don’t have other players see,” Ritchey said. “Joseph is just a winner. Whenever it’s crunch time he likes to put the kids on his back and get it done. Those are the type of kids you want. “Alex, Jacob and Joseph are just good football players and really good kids. You can tell Joseph wants to be a college football coach. He knows our offense inside and out. We put a lot of trust in him and put a lot on him during a game. And he does a great job handling it all.”
Ritchey tells a story when Tascosa first started the change to the Flexbone an Air Force assistant coach was in Amarillo and talking about the nuances of the offense and left some film.
“We were all watching it and couldn’t find some of the film,” Ritchey said. “And this was like for two years. Joseph had found and taken it home to watch. … I finally got it back after two years. That’s the type of kid he is.”
Now, the type of kid Joseph is doesn’t stand 6-foot-5 and wows recruits and opponents with his size. Joseph stands 5-9 and weighs 175 pounds.
He is already accepted an opportunity to be a preferred walk-on from Texas Tech head football coach Matt Wells. He is a tenacious runner, owning deft faking skills and the ability to use free arm to shake off would-be tacklers. And, of course, he owns a knowledge of the Flexbone rarely seen at the high school level.
“This was a little thing,” Ken Plunk said. “But we had noticed how the right side of Arlington Bowie defense was leaving something open. On our game-clinching first down we called the play to go left. But Joseph remember what we talked about and went right and was able to get the first down. It’s not a big thing, but that what he has done for us.”
Joseph’s numbers are off the chart impressive owning a 6-1 record in the playoffs as a starter, this season for the 9-3 Rebs he averages 8.0 yards per carry and has rushed for 2,245 yards while scoring 32 touchdowns.
“Joseph Plunk is as a good a high school quarterback as you will ever see,” said Amarillo High coach Chad Dunnam before his team played Tascosa this year. “He’s smart. He’s tough. And you can tell he loves to play football.”
Plunk put together one of the most memorable games in Tascosa football history (first Rebs game was played in 1958) on the final night of the regular season against Frenship with a crucial No. 1 district seed on the line. Plunk carried 40 times for a school-record 309 yards and scored five touchdowns in leading the way to a 36-23 victory.
He arms the next day were bruised from top to bottom.
Tascosa principal Smith says of Joseph: “He’s a quiet leader who takes care of business. His work ethic, attitude and confidence overflows to those around him. With all his success and with his role on the team, Joseph is a very humble young man who leads by action.”
The Plunk’s aren’t into mushy and gooey comments. That’s just the way they are. So for now, the this is greatest thing that ever happened to me coaching my son, or playing for my dad, quote isn’t going to happen. Save that for later.
“I do know how special it’s been,” Ken Plunk said. “What eight years of having a son in the program? I wish we had had a fourth one. It can be stressful, but to know your boys wanted to hang around and play for their dad. I know how lucky I am.”
Now when Joseph and Ken talk about each other their eyes said it all and scream out respect for each other. Like his father, Joseph is quick to smile and easy-going to be around. And both, in different conversations brought up how each Plunk brother has tied to top the other.
“Alex and his senior class really set the standard for Tascosa making that run in the playoffs and going from 3-7 to 10 and whatever,” Joseph said. “I learned a lot from Alex. And then Jacob and I being a year apart we played all the time together. What happened last year (the state semifinal run) really brought us close.
“This has been really cool for all three of us. We all have all had our successes. I had to make sure we won that last game so both of their senior seasons didn’t beat mine.
“Once I look back I will enjoy it. But right now all the focus is on Marcus.”
And you know by now, that means sitting in front of a TV, like he has done all is life, watching football (of course, playing a video games) and seeing how the Tascosa offense can make big plays against the Marcus.