During the 2013 football season at Hancock College, the Bulldogs needed somebody to take over the rushing attack that topped 3,000 yards in the year prior.
The Bulldogs had a huge void to fill after Cameron Artis-Payne, a Harrisburg, Pennsylvania native, rushed for 2,000 yards and 25 touchdowns all on his own. Artis-Payne signed with Auburn University after two seasons with the Bulldogs.
So who would coach Kris Dutra find to fill that hole left after Artis-Payne went on to play in the SEC? None other than Santa Maria High grad Joel Enriquez.
Enriquez wasn't a stranger to picking up rushing yards, though he was 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds, a stark contrast from the 5-10, 220 pound Artis-Payne. Make no mistakes about it, Enriquez was quite an athlete himself.
At Santa Maria High, he topped the 1,000-yard mark in his senior season, rushing for 1,071 yards on 195 carries with 11 touchdowns. He also had two 80-plus yard touchdown receptions and two long kick return TDs.
So how did Enriquez do filling those big shoes left by Artis-Payne? Just fine. In the 2013 season, Enriquez led the Hancock rushing attack with 751 yards and four touchdowns in just eight games. Enriquez averaged over 93 yards per game that season, nearly doubling up the No. 2 rusher on the team.
Artis-Payne went on to a productive career at Auburn, where he played in the the BCS national title game and was eventually drafted by the NFL's Carolina Panthers. He played four seasons with the Panthers, making it to the Super Bowl after the 2015 season.
Though there was serious contrast between Enriquez and Artis-Payne, those who saw Enriquez play at Santa Maria High weren't surprised to see him excel at Hancock.
Mike Regan was Enriquez's head coach with the Saints. Enriquez was a key player during his days at Santa Maria High, joined by Terrell and Mershad Dillon, who would also play at Hancock. (Mershad Dillon went on to play at Texas State).
"Joel Enriquez was a player I was privileged to coach," Regan says. "Joel would do whatever was needed for the team. He put in the work to be the best he could be and played every play as if the game was on the line, regardless of the score."
Regan said, "As a coach, I wish every player had that inner will to compete. He was a team leader for that Saint team. I'll always remember Joel scoring the winning touchdown vs. Nipomo in the overtime game. That was also the first Los Padres League win for me as a head coach and for the Saints since 2005.
"He ran that ball into the end zone with his hand raised in the air signaling that we won."
Regan also noted the 200-yard game vs. Pioneer Valley and when Enriquez took a screen pass from quarterback David Wilkerson 80 yards for a touchdown to break a shutout attempt against Lompoc.
"That's what you call heart," Regan said of the play. "That young man led his teammates by his strong will to give his all."
Enriquez added two receiving touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns during his senior season. He had 461 total return yards and was named the team MVP and earned All-LPL honors. He, the Dillon brothers and Cameron Glasgow were also the LPL 4x100 relay champions three years in a row.
Enriquez's career at Santa Maria is being highlighted as part of "The Other Guys" series, which aims to feature standout football players who narrowly missed out on a Player of the Decade nomination or were overlooked during their prep careers. Submissions for athletes to be featured as part of the series can be sent to the author.