Roy Lopez, who stepped down as Tolleson head football coach following the 2020, has been hired to take over the Desert Ridge program.
A native of Apache Junction in the far East Valley, Lopez said the support of the community and overall tradition of the Desert Ridge program are two of many reasons he was drawn to the opening. Lopez will be introduced to the team on Friday in the school gymnasium.
“I’m just beyond excited,” Lopez said. “Everyone who has seen me coach knows I’m a sweater, but I didn’t sweat making this decision.”
Lopez stepped down from Tolleson after the conclusion of the 2020 season, which the Wolverines and the district’s five other football programs were unable to compete in after officials canceled fall sports due to rising COVID-19 metrics.
There were times where Tolleson began practicing for the season, but cases again began to surge, resulting in a full cancellation. As a result, Lopez only coached one full season in his two years with the school.
“I’m a 26-year veteran and I think we were all put in a position where we had to make decisions we never had to make before,” Lopez said. “It was hard not competing this year. But at the same time, I think it was God’s will. There are so many things that go into this pandemic where you want to make the right choice.
“I think we’ve all learned quite a bit and I think we will continue to learn until they get a solid handle on this.”
Lopez’s most success as head coach came during his tenure at Marcos de Niza, where he led the Padres to an 88-32 overall record in nine seasons. Under Lopez, Marcos de Niza reached the state semifinals three times and the state championship game in 2009. He took over the Sunnyside football program in Tucson in 2016, where he remained for three seasons before he was hired at Tolleson.
Now, he takes over a Desert Ridge program that missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005, a year before former coach Jeremy Hathcock took over for Vincent Smith.
Hathcock stepped down as head coach at Desert Ridge after the pandemic-shortened and delayed 2020 season to take on the same position and become athletic director at Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside, Ariz., where he played under legendary coach Paul Moro.
In 15 seasons with Desert Ridge, Hathcock led the Jaguars to a 113-61 overall record, making the playoffs every year, the semifinals four times and the state title game twice – losing to Hamilton in 2010 and Centennial in 2015.
“Jeremy did a phenomenal job, he’s a great coach,” Lopez said. “I’ve got big shoes to fill and I’m honored and privileged to be in this position. I’m 11 minutes from home and honestly, I think this is God’s plan. This is his doing.”
Desert Ridge returns key starters on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Hunter Maxwell, who stepped in for the injured Austin Kolb this past season, and defensive back Kevin “KJ” Miniefield Jr. A 6-foot, 170-pound soon-to-be senior, Miniefield has already received praise from his new head coach.
“We probably have the best cornerback in the state, and I say that with confidence,” Lopez said. “He is going to be in good hands with the coaches we are bringing in. Some of the names, they are second to none.
“I think my uncle, Chuck Esquivel, was looking over me when I was making my decision to come here. He told me this was the perfect place to finish out my career.”
Desert Ridge Athletic Director Jim Lavin said in a statement Thursday night Lopez's track record was one of the key reasons for his hire.
"People are naturally drawn to him and his engaging personality. He is very passionate in all that he does, and I know he will love the kids up in our program, while holding them accountable to high standards," Lavin said. "Our student-athletes are going to work hard, and they are going to want to play for him. He is a man of great character, and is a tremendous role model.
"Roy is a perfect fit for our community and having grown up in this part of the Valley, it is a coming home of sorts for him. I know he will bring a great culture to the program, and will be a tremendous asset to the entire Desert Ridge community."