EDITOR’S NOTE » This is one in a series of previews of Utah’s high school football programs. They will run throughout the summer leading up to the 2014 regular season, which begins Aug. 21.
Many high school football teams would be thrilled with a 7-4 record and a state tournament appearance.
But, for a Highland team used to winning, last year’s first-round state tournament to loss to Sky View was viewed as a disappointing season. After all, it was the first time the Rams were knocked out of the tournament in the first game since 2007.
Veteran coach Brody Benson is optimistic that his 2014 team will be competitive.
"We lost a lot of seniors, and we were pretty talented last year," said Benson. "We didn’t reach our expectations on the season. … What we have coming back are a lot of kids really working hard. We’ve had kids that have taken over that leadership role and are taking it very seriously. Our seniors have a lot of expectations."
Benson said he felt as though the Rams never fully came together as a team last season, finishing third in tough Region 6 behind East and Bountiful.
Highland will be physically smaller this season but, in the triple-option flexbone offense run similar to Air Force and Navy, that could be an advantage.
"I like what we have as far as offensive linemen," said Benson. "They are athletic and fast, two things that help our offense. We don’t need a whole lot of size. We were big up front last year but, at times, we weren’t that effective in running our offense."
A key could be the play of new quarterback John Hunter, who didn’t get a lot of varsity playing time last year.
Benson said he is excited about his team this year, calling the players a bunch of "tough, blue-collar kids. That’s what Highland is all about. We have that worker mentality where we go out and wear you down."
Last year » 7-4; lost to Sky View in first round of Class 4A tournament
Key returners » Brandon Jones, a defensive end who plays wide receiver and tight end on offense. Thomas Penbroke is a fine strong safety and running back.
Biggest holes » The offensive line, which lost four of five starters, in a concern. New quarterback John Hunter is inexperienced. And Stanley Sitani, the team’s most experienced fullback, moved to Ohio with his family this summer.
Need to know » Last season was the first time since 2007 that Highland has been eliminated in the first round of the state tournament. Highland’s flexbone offense is an option-oriented attack similar to Air Force, Navy and Army.
Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.