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High school football: Highland Rams 2017 preview

Note: Highland finished with an 8-3 overall record in 2016 and second in Region 5 with a 4-1 record. It lost to Alta 58-48 in the 4A quarterfinals.

Highland 2016 Offensive and Defensive Stats

SALT LAKE CITY — Last year, Highland’s season didn’t end as the Rams expected it to. After losing just two games in the regular season, Highland fell to Alta, 58-48, in an offensive shootout in the 4A quarterfinals. In 2017, the Rams are prepared to reach their full potential and make a deep playoff run.

The Rams return three offensive linemen, including star Hunter Lotulelei, which will be key during a season in which Highland must replace both its starting quarterback from last year, James Pembroke, and its three leading rushers — Pembroke, Jake Boren and Lilo Clark. Despite losing those three rushers, Rams head coach Brody Benson is confident that his fullbacks in 2017 can more than shoulder the load.

“We’re a little bit inexperienced as far as our fullback position, but I think we have good kids coming along to kind of fill that role,” Benson said.

On defense, Highland returns two of its best defensive players, defensive back duo Elijah Shelton and Caden Hilborn. Shelton is recovering from a knee surgery performed in June, so Benson estimates that he might not be ready for the first week, but will be available to play for the majority of the 2017 season. The Rams will return over half of their starters from the 2016 season, on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball.

Highland Rams at a glance

Coach: Brody Benson is in his 12th year as head coach as of the Rams. Benson is a graduate of Granger High School and Southern Utah University. He has amassed a 90-42 record as a head coach.

Highland Offensive Snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Brandon Winn

2016 offensive production: 33.9 ppg (6th in 4A)

-- Six returning starters

-- Triple option offense

Key offensive returning starters

-- Hunter Lotulelei (OL)

Lotuelei is one of the top offensive linemen in the state of Utah and will anchor the Rams’ offensive line. The three-star lineman is committed to the University of Utah.

-- Elijah Shelton (WR)

Shelton was the leading receiver for the Rams in 2016, catching 17 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns.

Offensive returning starters

Elijah Shelton (WR)

Hunter Lotulelei (OL)

Michael Pakofe (OL)

Caden Hilborn (OL)

Trayton Keyes (RB)

Bronson Olevao (RB)

Offensive newcomers to watch

Travis Boyce

Colton White

Tevita Tuha

Jackson Dro

Benson’s comments on running backs:

“Right now, as far as our fullback position, it’s still a battle right now. We have Lolohea Fonua who’s coming off an injury, who’s seen some time at fullback last year for us, Bryan Geertgens is another one for us, he’s going to be a senior who we can rely on, Matthew Parkin is another one that is getting reps at fullback. Colton White is going to have a chance to step in, really fight for some reps. Out at our slot back, Trayton Keys is probably in the mix, Travis Boyce will be in the mix, Siope Teniva will definitely be out there, Bronson Olevao, so we have some weapons at that position, we have a little bit of depth, which is nice. Marlon Jones is another one that’s had a great offseason. He’s really matured as an athlete, as a leader, he’s going to be out there in the mix as well."

Benson’s comments on Elijah Shelton:

“Right now, it’s hard because he is coming off a knee surgery in June, so we haven’t really had him right now, but basically his athleticism, he’s a great athlete, he’s a big, strong, physical kid. It’s hard to replace a guy like that, but I feel good about the guys that have stepped up, Caden Hilborn at the d-end spot has probably had the most impact for us to step in and fill that void. It’s tough to replace the athleticism, the strength, the speed, but we’ll get him back, it’s just probably not going to be that week one, but we’ll definitely have him back.”

Benson’s comments on Hunter Lotulelei and the offensive line:

“Right now, he’s doing a good job at guard for us. Michael Pakofe is another one, I really hate to really hang it on one, especially with that group, you have five offensive linemen and you really try to preach a full unit with those guys. So he’s definitely an integral part of it, I like what he’s done in the offseason as far as the weight room, I’m excited to see how that transfers over to the football field.”

Keys to Offensive Success in 2017:

“I think that the biggest thing always, take care of the football. I think we need to rely on the guys we have up front, I feel that we have a good group of offensive linemen, I think that we really need to pin our ears back and get behind those guys. Then, not be afraid to spread the wealth as far as the ball carriers are concerned. I don’t think we’re going to have just one guy that we rely heavily on, I think we’re going to have a good unit that we can rely on as long as we can be an unselfish group and not care about who’s getting the yards or whose name is in the paper, I think we’ll be just fine.”

Highland Defensive Snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Kautai Olevao

2016 defensive production: 21.5 ppg (8th in 4A)

6 returning starters

Even front, 4-3 defense

Key defensive returning starters

-- Caden Hilborn (DE)

Hilborn totaled 40 tackles in 2016, second most on the team.

-- Elijah Shelton (DE)

Shelton had 24 tackles and a sack last year, and pairs nicely with Hilborn at the defensive end position.

Defensive returning starters

Caden Hilborn (DE)

Kaufusi Pakofe (DT)

Isaiah Jones (LB)

Trayton Keyes (CB)

Bronson Olevao (SS)

Elijah Shelton (DE)

Defensive newcomers to watch

Colton White

Ousmane Doumbia

Tevita Tuha

Jackson Hawes

Benson’s comments on Kautai Olevao, new defensive coordinator:

“We’ve had a little bit of a coaching change, John Jensen, who was our defensive coordinator for the past 12 years, got a job as an assistant principal, so we have a new defensive coordinator, Kautai Olevao. We’re changing up a little bit, our base defense is still the same, we know that we’re a four-man front. I think right now the biggest thing is learning different terminology. Coach Olevao has been with us for the past two years, so there’s not a huge change as far as terminology, but there are some changes, the expectations of what Coach Olevao wants defensively”

Benson’s comments on replacing Lilo Clark:

“He leaves some big shoes to fill. Taking that role, you’re going to see guys like Isaiah Jones and Matthew Parkin, that middle linebacker, those guys that can be real physical, an extra coach on the field at that time."

Keys to Defensive Success in 2017:

“We always say that we want to be the most physical and we want to fly around and if you can do those two things, you have a chance. I think Coach Olevao, his philosophy simplified things a little bit to get these guys to where they’re not thinking, they’re just reacting and they can react and run and be physical, and if we can do that and we can rely on the guys that we have to just pin their ears back and play football."

Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: First

Deseret News Region 6 prediction: First

Key region game: at Olympus, Sep. 29

Bottom line: Highland returns over half of its starters from the 2016 season and seem primed for a deep playoff run in 2017. If the Rams can find capable rushers and a good quarterback for their triple-option offense, they will pick right back up where they left off in 2016. On defense, Highland returns defense ends Elijah Shelton and Caden Hilborn, which will bolster the Rams' frontline.

2017 Schedule

Aug. 18 — MOUNTAIN CREST, 7 p.m.

Aug. 25 — LAYTON, 7 p.m.

Sept. 1 — at Hillcrest, 7 p.m.

Sept. 8 — at Lone Peak, 7 p.m.

Sept. 15 — MURRAY, 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 — SKYLINE, 7 p.m.

Sept. 29 — at Olympus, 7 p.m.

Oct. 6 — LEHI, 7 p.m.

Oct. 13 — at West, 7 p.m.

Oct. 20 — BYE

Felts Facts for Highland High School

All-time record: 409-230-3 (60 years)

Region championships: 15 (1958, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1986, 1987, 1988 co, 1996, 1997, 2003 co, 2004 co, 2005 co, 2006 co, 2007 co, 2009)

Playoff appearances: 43

Current playoff appearance streak: 34 (1983-2016)

All-time playoff record: 55-38

State championships: 5 (1959, 1961, 1963, 1986, 2010)

State championship record: 5-4

Most played rivalry: 59 meetings with East dating back to 1957. Highland leads 34-25.

Felt’s Factoid(s): Highland holds the record for biggest comeback in state history. Down 28-0 to Bonneville in the second quarter of a 1995 playoff game, Highland scored 31 straight points to win 31-28. … Nate Orchard (then Fakahafua) amassed 200 receiving yards in helping Highland to the 4A state title in 2010 - one of only two players to have at least 200 reception yards in a state championship game.

Last 5

2016 — 8-3 (4-1 in Region 5 – 4A Quarterfinals)

2015 — 8-4 (4-1 in Region 5 – 4A Semifinals)

2014 — 7-4 (4-2 in Region 6 – 4A First round)

2013 — 7-4 (4-2 in Region 6 – 4A First round)

2012 — 8-5 (3-2 in Region 6 – 4A Semifinals)

Highland coaching history

2006-current — Brody Benson (90-42)

2001-2005 — Ray Groth (40-21)

1996-2000 — Larry Wilson (43-14)

1986-1995 — Tom Kingsford (76-36)

1977-1985 — Roger DuPaix (55-38)

1974-1976 — Dennis McLaughlin (7-20)

1971-1973 — Tony Polychronis (10-17)

1966-1970 — Jerry Simons (24-24)

1961-1965 — Bill Fickinger (40-10)

1957-1960 — Larry Palmer (24-9)


Deseret News Mr. Football recipients

1997 — Morgan Scalley, QB

Deseret News MVPs the past 10 years

2010 — Nate Orchard, WR/DL

Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years

2015 — Andrew Gramer, OL

2015 — Jayden Palauni, DL

2013 — Bryan Mone, DL

2012 — Luti Nonu, OL

2012 — Bryan Mone, DL

2012 — Adam Webber, LB

2011 — Quincy Clark, DL

2010 — Sione Houma, RB

2010 — Ono Tafisi, OL

2010 — Desmond Collins, DL

2010 — Hayes Hicken, K

2009 — Toi Tafua

2009 — Ono Tafisi, OL

2008 — Latu Heimuli, DL

2007 — Latu Heimuli, DL

To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.

Read rest of the 2017 prep football previews here