Dickerson, Escoto and Navarro key Baler D-line

Ricky Navarro, Aaron Escoto and Joseph Dickerson have played key roles for the Balers defense this season. Photo by Robert Eliason.

The Hollister football team’s defensive line has been a source of strength for much of the season, and it all starts with Joseph Dickerson, Aaron Escoto and Ricky Navarro. The trio complement each other well and take advantage of each other’s strengths, allowing the linebackers to make plays. They’ll need to be at their best if the Haybalers want to win their first Central Coast Section playoff game since the 2016 season. Hollister, which finished the regular-season at 5-5 and is coming off a 38-3  loss to Palma, earned the No. 5 seed in the Division II bracket and plays at No. 4 Aptos (5-5) on Friday at 7 p.m. Dickerson, Escoto and Navarro appreciate the fact they get to line up next to one another.

“It’s a privilege playing next to these two guys,” said Dickerson, a junior tackle. “They are relentless and it’s all about chemistry when we’re out there on the field.”

Indeed, the trio have all bought into what makes playing for Hollister football great, and that starts with being accountable to one another.

“We play based mostly on trust and a brotherhood,” said Escoto, a senior nose tackle. “When we step on the field, we’re going to hold that line together and make the play in the backfield every time.”

Said Navarro: “I give props to them. I make them look good on some plays and they make me look good on some plays. When someone succeeds, it’s another person doing their job right.”

Dickerson, Escoto and Navarro have done their respective jobs more often than not this season. For Dickerson, playing for the program means representing not just himself but others as well. Whenever things get tough, being a representative is what keeps him going and motivates him to finish well, whether it’s in practice, in a game or in the weight room.

“I remember in the summer at one point it was 100 degrees for two weeks straight,” he said. “The sun is beating down on you and you think you want to quit, but you can’t because you’re playing for your brothers and this community. I’m mostly doing it for them, and that is what drives me.”

Escoto was born and raised in Hawaii before moving to Hollister in May. Despite moving far away from his birthplace and from childhood friends, Escoto said football helped ease what normally would be a tough transition for any teenager who transfers to another high school the summer before his/her senior year. Undersized at 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, Escoto still holds his own in the trenches and then some. Despite not having the typical body of traditional linemen, Escoto uses his size to his advantage, getting under the pads of opposing offensive linemen and leveraging them so he can hold his position or get penetration into the backfield.

“My hand speed and quickness off the ball allows me to get in the backfield to make a big play,” said Escoto, who knows what offensive linemen are thinking when they line up against him for the first time. “I can see it in their eyes that they’re thinking this dude is small and will probably be easy to block. I go out there and prove them wrong every time.”

All of the Hollister players watch video of the upcoming opponent, and in those “film” sessions Navarro is taking careful mental notes on who he’ll be hitting pads with.

“I look at how the guard is set up—that’s my key,” he said. “I’m supposed to read the play. When it’s a pass, I try to use my hands and speed because most guards are not that fast. I’ll swat their hands down real quick and get around them. Before the Salinas game, I was using more bull rushing, but I’ve been switching it up lately.”

Dickerson said he weighed 190 pounds as a sophomore before packing on some serious muscle to get to his current 6-foot, 215-pound frame. He utilizes both speed and strength and the ability to get off the ball quick to wreak havoc on the opposition. For Dickerson, success comes down to having the right mentality.

“It’s definitely about having a good attitude off the start,” he said. “If you’re beat mentally, you’re not going to play well.”

Dickerson relayed a nice moment before the season started when he was able to tell his parents he had earned a starting position.

“I gave my parents a big hug and said thank you for giving me the opportunity to succeed,” he said. “I’ve pretty much had this attitude of never quitting and being positive, and some of that comes from my parents. Anyone can stay on the sideline and accept their situation, but I went a different route, and it all started with having the right attitude.”

Escoto certainly has the right mentality and focused approach when he’s on the field. He said playing high school football in Hawaii prepared him well for the rigors of playing for Hollister, as neither are for the faint of heart.

“It definitely prepared me because over there it’s all rough and tumble and everyone is looking for that big hit,” he said. “You also have to be strong here in Hollister, both physically and mentally.”

In a win over Alvarez, Escoto recorded his first sack of the season and generally wreaked havoc all game. Navarro said the linemen take pride in knowing their assignments and doing their job. The 6-foot, 260-pound Navarro is the biggest of the three linemen, and he’s used to being double-teamed.

“I just try to play consistent,” he said. “I just try to do in the games what we’re taught in practice. Sometimes I do a bull rush and use my power and strength, and other times I have to use more of my hands and agility depending on the play and who’s trying to block me.”

Navarro attended his first semester of high school at Palma before transferring to San Benito High. After some adversity with his living situation, Navarro said everything has turned out for the better, and he’s gained strength through the experience. One of Navarro’s best games of the season came against Wilcox, when he finished with a team-high 18 tackles. Dickerson also counts the Wilcox contest as one of his best performances of the year, as he totaled 15 tackles.

Balers coach Bryan Smith praised the efforts of all three players, noting Escoto’s presence in opposing backfields and his “tremendous heart and high motor.” Dickerson and Navarro have been run stuffers while also applying pressure on the quarterback. If the Balers are to play well on defense, it all starts with the big guys up front. Escoto said this will likely be his final year of playing football, as he plans on enlisting to become a member of the Coast Guard once he graduates. His father, Enrique, was a diver for the Navy.

Dickerson, Escoto and Navarro have all paid the price in terms of sacrificing their time and efforts to be a part of the Baler football program. The 5:30 a.m. summer workouts weeds out the ones who are committed to the ones who are not. It’s what the program requires, and Dickerson wouldn’t have it any other way.

“The 5:30 a.m. off-season practices and conditioning were really tough,” he said. “I knew I had  to bring another person out of me just to get through those. Conditioning every single day and practicing in the hot and cold weather in the off-season definitely builds your mental toughness. … At the end of the day, I love my job and working on my craft to improve. I leave everything on the field; it’s the only way I feel comfortable after the game.”

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