Juanito DeJesus hardly looks like an imposing force on the line, where he’s often the smallest player.

But Granger opponents underestimate the 5-foot-9, 185-pound senior at their peril, something not as likely to happen after he earned first-team all-SCAC West honors as an offensive lineman last season.

A relentless work ethic on the field and in the weight room should give him even more strength and skill to push bigger players out of his way on both sides of the ball.

“I just try to get under people,” DeJesus said. “Since I’m shorter than a lot of the other guys I’ve been up against, it helps me to get under and drive them back.”

He learned a lot about how to successfully employ that strategy from veteran coach Gary Ely, who also thrived as an undersized lineman back in his high school days. But he acknowledges when he first saw DeJesus as a freshman, Ely thought it would be tough for the motivated freshman to ever get on the field.

Older players dwarfed DeJesus in size and stayed ahead of him on the depth chart, but rather than get discouraged, he saw what he wanted to become. Now he’s the one pushing around younger players on the field and encouraging them to develop into Granger’s next starting linemen.

“All it is really is that you have to have the will and then once you have the will, you can do anything,” DeJesus said. “As long as you’re motivated, you can go farther than you ever expected.”

That’s the message Ely wants passed on to Granger’s younger players, and DeJesus seems to be the right man for the job. He’ll be the leader of an all-senior offensive line, playing guard along with his duties at defensive tackle.

In the weightroom DeJesus improved his max bench press to 255 pounds and squat to 295 pounds as he tries to keep up with teammate Jose Mendoza. Over the summer, DeJesus worked hard on establishing a firm stance with better agility to gain the upper hand on opposing linemen.

Fast footwork increases DeJesus’ effectiveness, even though Ely said it’s not always correct. Still, he stressed DeJesus always wants to improve and add to the legacy he’ll leave at the end of his high school career.

DeJesus put in the work to make himself just as strong if not stronger than his bigger teammates, and he said they always push each other to do more. He wants to be known as more than just “the smaller guy” and so long as he continues to effectively push back defenders and open up holes for running backs or protect the Spartans’ new quarterback, DeJesus could cement himself as one of the league’s best linemen.

“He’s earned it,” Ely said. “He’s worked his tail off. I’m sure hoping he builds upon it.”