Roy Lopez, a native of Apache Junction in the far East Valley, has been hired to take over the Desert Ridge program and will be introduced to the team on Friday in the school gymnasium. The support of the community and overall tradition of the Desert Ridge program are two main reasons he was interested to the opening.
Lopez stepped down as Tolleson head football coach after the conclusion of the 2020 season, in which the Wolverines and the five other football teams were unable to compete after the league’s officials decided to cancel fall sports due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Being two years with Tolleson, he only coached one full season because of the surge or the Corona Virus.
“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.”
During his tenure as head coach at Marcos de Niza, he led the Padres to an overall record of 88-21 in nine seasons. They reached the state semifinals three times and one major accomplishment is when they competed in the Championship game in 2009. He also coached the Sunnyside football team in Tucson in 2016 and remained there for three season before being hired in Tolleson.
“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.”
Desert Ridge missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005, a year before former coach Jeremy Hathcock took over for Vincent Smith. Due to the pandemic shortening the 2020 season, Hathcock stepped down as head coach at Desert Ridge to become the athletic director at Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside, AZ. He led the Jaguars to a 113-61 overall record in 15 seasons and made the playoffs each year. They reached the semifinals four times and competed in state title games twice. Unfortunately, they lost both games to Hamilton in 2010 and Centennial in 2015.
“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.” Lopez said.
Key starters Hunter Maxwell (quarterback) and Kevin “KJ” Miniefield Jr. (defensive back) return for Desert Ridge. They both had already received praise from their 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.
Desert Ridge Athletic Director Jim Lavin said in a statement Thursday night that 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.”