Anthony Hovorka understands the doubters.
Even he was one of them early on.
Desert Ridge has been one of the most successful football programs in the state the past two seasons. The team made the 5A Division I championship game in 2010 and the Division I semifinals in 2011, finishing with a combined record of 20-7.
After steady progression for years, the Jaguars made the leap to elite status, joining the ranks of Hamilton and Brophy.
But now the question is, can they sustain it?
Jordan Becerra (1,097 rushing yards, 16 TD), Parker Rasmussen (1,455 passing yards, 14 TD) and Joey Counts (1,719 yards, 22 TD) were the driving force behind that run, three skill players that took turns dicing up opposing defenses.
They are all gone now, as a new era begins for the Jaguars.
“We don’t have the big names,” Hovorka said . “Now we’ve got to prove it on our own. And if we do this year, then people will know. They won’t just respect those playmakers, they’ll respect the whole Desert Ridge program. At first I had my doubts, too, but this is going to be a really good team.”
There is ample talent returning.
The senior-to-be Hovorka is one of the top safeties in the state, and fellow defensive standout Nathaniel Rodriguez returns for his junior season.
Basha tailback J.J. Husar has transferred in, as has running back Jake Mapes, who played for Skyline last season. Manny Figueroa missed all but two games last season because of a broken collarbone, but is expected to be a go-to wide receiver. Nick Allen leads an offensive line that could be the offense’s biggest strength.
Desert Ridge Jeremy Hathcock agrees this is an important year for the program, but he enters every new season with that mentality.
“We always tell our kids, build upon what your brothers did before you,” Hathcock said. “That’s important. We told last year’s kids that. We told the year before’s kids that. They’ve come through for four years with sweat and blood. Now it’s (the current team’s) time to give the sweat to the program.”
Every program will have its ebbs and flows, but the key is to make sure seven and eight wins are the down years. If Desert Ridge can do that, then its place among the best programs will be cemented.
And staying in the top echelon is realistic.
In an era of heavy transfers and open enrollment, Desert Ridge’s recent success and exciting brand of play has made an impact. Athletes from the nearby areas want to be a part of it, and Mapes said he can see why the Jaguars have had success.
“It’s a big difference from Skyline,” Mapes said. “They take so much pride in their work. The grass really is greener over here.”
There are holes to fill.
Rasmussen and Becerra traded off at quarterback the past two seasons, and there is an open competition for the starting job. Hathcock likes the talent of the potential replacements, but it’s more than that.
In a complicated offense like Desert Ridge’s, game repetitions and experience are a big factor, and the learning curve will be steep.
Hathcock was apologetic at a recent spring practice, and promised this version of the Jaguars would not resemble the outfit on display once the season starts.
That’s more than three months away, there is still time to iron it all out. But that doesn’t mean there is time to lollygag.
“I have to get on the little guys sometimes if they’re dogging it,” Figueroa said. “I keep on telling them, the way we’re playing right now is the way we’re going to play later on in the season. We’ve got to get that fast pace in, get that routine in, and then we’ll beat the other teams in the fourth quarter when they’re tired and we’re not.
“We have a lot of talent on our team right now, and we’re learning.”