Mesa Desert Ridge football coach Jeremy Hathcock is feeling a bit unloved these days.
“You’re the second person I’ve talked to (in the media) all year,” Hathcock said. “No one is paying much attention to us.”
That might be because no one is quite sure what to make of Desert Ridge. Yes, it’s 7-1 but it hasn’t faced a single team ranked in the top 10 in Division I. The combined record of its seven in-state opponents — Desert Ridge lost to Junipero Serra (Calif.) the first week of the season — is 21-35. Also, Desert Ridge doesn’t have any of the state’s top recruits; its two best players are juniors, twin brothers Tarek and Taren Morrison.
Desert Ridge could beat Scottsdale Desert Mountain and Mesa Mountain View the final two weeks of the season, finish 9-1 and still be a complete unknown come the playoffs.
“I’ve seen a lot of game film and I think humbly speaking we’re a top-eight team,” Hathcock said. “I really believe Mountain Pointe is different from anybody else this year, but there are six or seven other teams that can vie for the title and I think we’re one of them.”
I can make a good case for dismissing Desert Ridge as a serious post-season threat; beating teams like Goodyear Millennium and Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor hardly prepares it for Mountain Pointe, Chandler or Chandler Hamilton. If Desert Ridge gets an unfavorable draw, it could lose in the first round.
But I wouldn’t be surprised if Desert Ridge goes deep into the playoffs, either. It has three important factors in its favor:
First, Hathcock adopted the Wing-T offense coach Jeff Bowen has been using at Avondale Westview for years and because so few teams run those sets, it’s inordinately difficult to prepare for. Desert Ridge has thrown the ball just 49 times all season while running it 297 times for 2,622 yards and 40 touchdowns.
Second, this is the deepest team Hathcock has had at Desert Ridge. He said he doesn’t have a single player going both ways, “which will make a huge difference in the playoffs.”
Most importantly, the Morrison twins are elite talents who could carry Desert Ridge a long, long way. Tarek, the team’s starting quarterback, missed the first three games of the season while still rehabilitating from off-season reconstructive knee surgery. But as Tarek gets healthier he’ll provide at least some hint of a passing game; that’s vital to keep defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage in an attempt to stop Desert Ridge’s running game.
“Once he believes in his knee it’ll be chaos,” Hathcock said.
Taren, meanwhile, has become one of the state’s top running backs. He’s carried the ball 99 times for 1,370 yards — that’s a 13.84 yards per carry average — and 21 touchdowns. Hathcock, who’s been blessed with terrific runners in the past in Joey Counts and Jordan Becerra, said Taren is the best he’s ever coached.
“I’ve never coached a running back that when I stand behind the offense at Wednesday’s practices I’m a little bit floored that I can coach somebody that good,” Hathcock said. “It’s his innate ability to see the hole, hit it and burst through it at such a rapid amount of speed.
“He’s able to go lateral on a dime and then go forward without stopping. He’s rare like that.”
Tarek and Taren, who needs 190 yards rushing to break the single-season school record, look so much alike that Hathcock still has trouble telling them apart. He insists, somewhat jokingly, that they have different haircuts just so he knows which one he’s addressing. One characteristic he’s glad they share, however, is their competitiveness. Both brothers hate to lose, which undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact they’ve spent a lifetime competing against each other and their older brother, Ty.
“They eat up the competition and the team atmosphere,” Hathcock said.
If this is Hathcock’s best team, look out. Desert Ridge played in the Class 5A Division I state championship game in 2010 and reached the semifinals each of the last two seasons. In all three games it lost to — who else — Hamilton. But the Jaguars were more of a known quantity those years because it played some of the top Division I teams in the regular season.
This Desert Ridge team is a mystery. Is it as good as Hathcock believes or has it feasted on a favorable schedule? We’ll begin to find out tonight, when Desert Mountain pays a visit. But the definitive answer won’t come until November.
Reach Bordow at email@example.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/sBordow