Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017 | 12:46 a.m.
Tyler Williamson stepped to the line of scrimmage and looked around at his teammates.
Whoever the Desert Pines High quarterback gave the ball to, it was going to be a first-time varsity player. Williamson and the Jaguars were essentially starting over.
Desert Pines graduated more than 20 players off its state championship team from 2016, sending many to some form of college football, including three to Pac-12 Conference schools. Williamson, a junior, is one of the lone returners. Desert Pines struggled early — didn’t score in its initial two games, actually — but has returned to its winning ways.
They used more than 200 yards rushing and four touchdowns Friday from sophomore Michael Lofton in a 35-6 victory against Mojave for their third straight win.
“The bar was set high,” Williamson said. “(The younger players) knew they had to come in and work, work, work.”
When one of your former players leads Arizona in tackles as a true freshman and another is receiving high marks at USC, it’s easy to say the next group of prospects won’t be as celebrated. That’s not the case at Desert Pines, whose class of 2020 is already on the recruiting radar for college coaches.
Lofton and backfield mate Jyden King, who holds a scholarship offer from Arizona, are a dynamic one-two punch out of the backfield. Tight end Darnell Washington at 6-foot-6, 230-pounds passes the eye test and coaches rave about his athletic ability. One veteran coach even labels Washington as the most athletic player he’s coached.
Desert Pines has 12 sophomores on the roster, including defensive tackle Jordan Butler — a regular on the state championship team last year. He plays alongside another big-bodied sophomore in Jonathan Pickett Jr. (6-foot-3, 245-pounds), who already has scholarship offers from BYU and UNLV.
“We are coming together as a team,” Pickett said. “Good coaching staff that is getting our mind right.”
Desert Pines improves to 2-0 in the Sunset League and is projected to make another deep playoff run. Coach Tico Rodriguez sees his players becoming more confident each week, and more familiar with each other.
The goal is to peak by the end of the season. That’s why he wasn’t concerned when they struggled early. His core group of players, after all, are just sophomores.
“We are so young. Every week we are getting better,” Rodriguez said. “I scheduled two really tough teams early to go through the growing pains.”