Outlook: Desert Ridge has gotten a little lost in the preseason chatter of the top-flight Division I teams, but make no mistake about it, the Jaguars are squarely in the mix. This is the only program aside from Hamilton to make the Division I semifinals each of the past three seasons and a fourth appearance is very much there for the taking.
Desert Ridge was beaten by the Huskies in last year’s final four, the third straight year Hamilton has knocked it from the postseason. However, that game was tied midway through the third quarter despite the Jaguars missing star quarterback Tarek Morrison and star running back J.J. Husar, so there is plenty of reason for optimism.
Husar has since graduated, but Morrison returns to lead an offense which should once again be explosive. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the quarterfinals against Avondale Westview and is not yet full strength, and it could take him awhile to become the same player he was before the injury. However, twin brother Taren Morrison and Danny Siamau are both impact runners who should make up for his absence, and coach Jeremy Hathcock is excited about wide receivers E.J. McClanahan and Holden Acosta.
While Desert Ridge is known for its offensive ability, the defense should be among the state’s best. Defensive back Nathaniel Rodriguez, linebacker Amoni Itaaeahau and defensive lineman Vita Taifu are three impact returners, and the defense has Hathcock in a different frame of mind from past seasons.
“We’re not where Steve Belles is (with Hamilton), where three points is probably going to win,” Hathcock said, “but I think we’re in the top-3, top-4 talk for Division I. We want to run the ball and we want to slow it down so the defense can get after it.”
As each year passes and Hathcock finds success with a new group of kids, it reaffirms Desert Ridge’s spot among the state’s elite programs. Now, if the team can stay healthy, it’s hoping to turn semifinals and finals appearances into that elusive state championship.
“We were right there (in 2012),” Hathcock said. “We feel like we have a shot.”
Division I, Section III
Coach: Jeremy Hathcock
Last year’s record: 11-2, lost to Hamilton in Division I semifinals
Returning Starters: 5 on offense/ 6 on defense
Returning Statistical Leaders: QB Tarek Morrison (44-84, 861 yards passing, 9 TD, 7 INT; 162 carries, 1,404 yards, 18 TD); RB Danny Siamau (85 carries, 645 yards, 10 TD); DL Vita Taifu (53 tackles, 7 sacks); DB Nathaniel Rodriguez (68 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 3 FR); LB Amoni Itaaeahau (95 tackles, 4.5 sacks).
Aug. 31 vs. Gardena Serra at Los Angeles Cathedral; Sept. 6 vs. Gilbert; Sept. 12 at Sandra Day O’Connor; Sept. 20 vs. Millennium; Sept. 27 vs. Brophy; Oct. 4 at Mesa; Oct. 11 vs. Skyline; Oct. 18 at Red Mountain; Oct. 25 vs. Desert Mountain; Nov. 1 at Mountain View
Aug. 31 vs. Gardena Serra at Los Angeles Cathedral: The Jaguars start off against one of the nation's best teams. In all likelihood, this will be a loss, especially if quarterback Tarek Morrison (knee) is unable to play. However, if the Jaguars can keep it close by limiting mistakes, it will bode well for the rest of the season.
Sept. 27 vs. Brophy: Desert Ridge has an easy stretch after the tough season opener, so it should be rested and ready for the Broncos. Brophy must replace most of its key players from last year's semifinal team, and Desert Ridge should be favored. However, the Broncos are one of the state's top programs and must not be taken lightly.
Oct. 25 vs. Desert Mountain: The Desert Ridge secondary will get a big test against the standout Wolves' duo of quarterback Kyle Allen (Texas A&M commit) and wide receiver Mark Andrews (Oklahoma commit). On the flip side, though, the Jaguars should be able to exert their will in the ground game. This will be an interesting matchup and should help show if Desert Ridge is indeed a championship contender.