Most football coaches at any level will admit that a game is won in the trenches.
Without a solid offensive line, an offense will usually stall. Without a stout defensive front, opposing teams can score with ease.
The offensive and defensive lines don’t often receive the recognition should their team win a game. But their play doesn’t go unnoticed. That is the case for Desert Ridge High coach Jeremy Hathcock, who benefits from having one of the best defensive players in the state in senior Joquarri Price, as well as two-way junior Dante Smith.
“If you put those two on the same side, you tell me who you’re going to block,” Hathcock said. “I don’t care who you are, you aren’t going to run to that side.”
Price, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive end, has been a mainstay on the Desert Ridge defense since he was brought up to the varsity level as a sophomore. His progression both on the field and in the weight room helped him gain interest from Division I college programs, including Rice, Montana State, San Diego State and Iowa State.
On Aug. 3, just three weeks before the start of his senior season, Price committed to San Diego State.
“The location is close, it just felt like home,” Price said. “I had time to think about it while we were at camp in Winslow. I just wanted to get it off my chest and commit before my senior season.
“I’m glad I got it done.”
Price confided in his parents and Hathcock to make his decision. However, they all left it up to him.
“I told him that he has to go where he is loved,” Hathcock said. “I knew San Diego State was high on him and it’s so close. Him and his family just felt really good about it.”
Price was one of the 6A leaders in sacks last season with 12. He also forced 19 quarterback hurries and had 77 total tackles coming off the edge. So far this season, he’s accounted for 28 total tackles, eight quarterback hurries and two sacks.
He aims to exceed his season totals from last season but admits becoming a leader the rest of his teammates can look up to is more important. He wants to set an example for all of the younger players coming through the program.
Price has even taken some players, including Smith, under his wing.
“Just working with him, he motivates me and our team to work harder,” Smith said. “He’s helped me get stronger and overall better on the field. It feels good to have him looking after me.”
Having Price to look up to has helped Smith with his overall progression and understanding of the game.
Smith played flag football when he was younger with several of the players that are on Desert Ridge’s varsity roster today. As kids, they tried to encourage him to play tackle football with them, but Smith’s mother was hesitant.
He didn’t hit his growth spurt until he was a freshman at Desert Ridge, where he played tackle football for the first time. But despite being inexperienced, it was clear he had a natural talent for the game.
“He’s a football player,” Hathcock said. “I’m telling you, he’s going to be a 20-offer kid. He’s a wrestler so he can go both ways and never get tired.”
Hathcock compares Smith to former Desert Ridge defensive tackle Alex Barrett, who went on to play at San Diego State before having stints in the NFL with the Detroit Lions and most recently the Oakland Raiders.
Hathcock believes they have the same type of aggressive and physical play style.
Smith was limited to five games last season due to a sprained MCL. He tried to come back for the Jaguars’ first-round playoff game against Pinnacle but Hathcock sat him to not risk any further damage in his knee.
Now 6-foot-2, 290 pounds and healthy, Smith is ready to wreak havoc on opposing offensive and defensive lines alongside Price.
“We can be very dangerous,” Smith said. “It’s something I look forward to, but I know I need to keep working hard. Just watch, we are going to be some dogs.”
Price and Smith are focused on helping lead Desert Ridge back to a winning season and beyond this year after finishing 3-10 in 2018. They have plenty of talent from last year’s team around them, including Cal-Berkeley commit Aidan Lee ad wideout and Iowa State-commit Koby Hathcock playing multiple positions on both sides of the ball.
They both aim to make it a special year for the senior class and will do what it takes to be remembered as the team that turned the program back in the right direction.
“We want to be remembered as being tough and committed to this program,” Price said. “I want to get everything perfect so I can perform at my very best to help my team on Friday nights.”