In sports, they say it's always tough to follow "the man." Last season, Highland's quarterback Bo McNally led the team in touchdowns with 24 and guided the team to the Class 4A semi-final game.
Bo definitely was "the man" for Highland in 2004. Just who would step up this season for Highland?
Considering McNally led the Rams to a record of 11-2 and a region title, it seemed unlikely the Rams would be better without him.
Senior quarterback Thomas Bradley did more than just replace McNally, he's surpassed him. His ability to run and throw has helped to transform the once run-happy Highland offense into a more balanced attack.
During the season, Bradley has run for 11 touchdowns and gained over 1,000 yards on the ground, but he can throw the ball just as easily, getting 20 scores this season with his arm. The Rams offense is different from past years because they have big, talented receivers in Jake Orchard and Les Brown and a quarterback that delivers.
"In our offense, you have to have a quarterback that gets them the ball," Bradley said. Head Coach Ray Groth says his quarterback is better now because he's learned from early season mistakes. "He's made tremendous improvement since the beginning of the year, and we wouldn't be here without him," Groth said.
Bradley is reluctant to take credit for the team's success, explaining that it's been more important to cut down on mistakes and penalties. It's an issue that's frustrated both players and coaches. Bradley was adamant about eliminating the team's unforced errors, explaining that they can't win if the team doesn't clean them up.
"We have everybody doing what they should be doing," Bradley says. "Plus, we're using them (receivers) a lot more now then we did earlier in the season," he continued.
A perfect example of the Rams' new and improved offense was displayed last week when East and Highland clashed in the 4A semi-final game. No. 5 (Bradley) dominated the game, accounting for four touchdowns in the 35-13 victory.
Bradley's performance only underscores how dangerous the Rams have become. Their quarterback scored on runs of 31 and 39 yards weaving through the East defense. He also beat them with his arm. The senior connected with Orchard for a 25-yard score that put the Rams on top 21-0. For good measure, Bradley connected with Les Brown for a 39-yard touchdown.
Senior running back Sam Bergen says the team is more confident because they are playing up to their full potential. "We are a whole lot smarter as a team and we have a better quarterback. He's just a great leader for us."