Jeremy Hathcock has built the Desert Ridge High School football team into a blue-collar program since he took over as head coach in 2006.
The team revolves around hard work and dedication both on and off the field, two aspects that Hathcock admits is tough for some to get used to. But once bought in to the program’s foundation, it often leads to success.
“We are a tough program,” Hathcock said. “We like to get after it and that can be tough for some kids.”
Desert Ridge wide receiver Aidan Lee learned about Hathcock’s blue-collar mentality early on in his high school career.
Lee began practicing with Desert Ridge heading into his freshman season, but chose to attend nearby Highland High School before the year began. After his freshman season, however, former Hawks’ coach Pete Wahlheim was relieved of his head coaching duties. As a result, Lee asked Hathcock if he could return to Desert Ridge.
At first, Hathcock was reluctant.
“We didn’t want a guy that kept moving around everywhere,” Hathcock said. “But I told him he needed to work hard in order to earn a spot. Once he figured out how to work, I mean look at him, he’s become a great player for us.”
Lee sat out the first half of his sophomore season due to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s transfer rule. He played in just four games, catching 10 passes for 122 yards.
Wanting to become a breakout player for Desert Ridge, Lee’s love for the game immediately grew to new heights. With that came a new mentality toward offseason work.
“I really started to take it serious in high school,” Lee said. “I went out on the field and ran routes, I got faster and stronger. I knew I could be good so I stuck with it.”
Injuries plagued the Jaguars last season. A concussion in the first game of the season resulted in quarterback Cooper Schmidt sitting the rest of the year. Running back Lucas Wright missed time due to a variety of injuries.
Desert Ridge’s offense changed every week, but each formation gave Lee a chance to prove he was one of the most talented athletes in the state.
“We tried to get him the ball anyway possible,” Hathcock said. “It was a tough year for all of us with injuries and guys having to step up when they weren’t ready. But we learned a lot about our character and who we are.”
The Jaguars finished the 2018 season 3-8, their worst record in Hathcock’s tenure. Despite adversity surrounding the team, Lee had 472 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.
“I have high standards for myself,” Lee said. “This year will be different. I know to do that I have to keep grinding and getting on que with Austin (Kolb).
“We just need to continue to work as a team and overall we will be successful.”
Lee has shined in spring and summer passing tournaments, often overpowering opposing defenders.
The chemistry he and junior quarterback Austin Kolb have established throughout the offseason is a vast improvement from last season, and it has started to spread to other playmakers on Desert Ridge’s offense.
Lee said he’s put on nearly 20 pounds of muscle since the end of the 2018 season. But despite the added weight, his speed has improved and he has taken the physical aspect of his game to a new level.
Colleges have begun to take notice.
Lee was offered a scholarship to Northern Arizona University in February, his first division I offer. His second offer came less than a week later on April 2 from Army. Since then, Lee has received offers from New Mexico State, San Jose State, Abilene Christian and Montana State.
“It started slow but it’s been really smooth,” Lee said of his recruitment. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for awhile. I just need to stay patient and keep doing what I am doing.”
Lee is expecting Desert Ridge to have a strong season, and he plans to contribute in a big way. He’s aiming to have at least 40 receptions this season for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns. He believes that if he can do that, it will set up the rest of his teammates for success.
Hathcock expects Lee to play both offense and defense this season, as he is confident in his ability to lockdown opposing wideouts at defensive back. Lee has embraced the expectations, and has continued to put in more work to further improve his craft.
He’s come a long way since his freshman year, when Hathcock believed he was afraid of the amount of work expected of him at Desert Ridge. Now, however, he’s become one of the lead examples in the Desert Ridge program for what hard work can help a player accomplish.
“He used to be one of those really good athletes that didn’t know how to work hard,” Hathcock said. “He lacked that vision for himself.
“But I think now he knows what he is capable of.”