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High school football: Highland Rams 2018 preview

_Note_: Highland finished with a 7-4 overall record in 2017 and was second in Region 6 with a 4-1 record. It lost to Corner Canyon 37-0 in the 5A quarterfinals.

Highland 2017 Offensive and Defensive Stats

SALT LAKE CITY — If this year’s Highland football team has developed a personality in the preseason, it’s that what they lack in experience, they’ll make up for in effort and leadership.

“They’re great teammates,” said head coach Brody Benson of the Rams, who were chosen as the Region 6 favorites in a coaches poll. “These guys are very team oriented. They do a great job of helping the young kids.”

And that doesn’t mean just the talented youngsters.

“I really think they love being around each other,” he said. “They’re blue collar. They show up, shut up and they work. They’re not flashy. They’re going to go out and work.”

The Rams have always been a nose-to-the-grindstone kind of team, but sometimes coaches are trying to persuade players to trust that philosophy. This year, there was no persuasion necessary.

“It just fits the mentality of the team,” Benson said.

The Rams finished second last year in a tough Region 6 race. They return about a third of last year’s team, and many of those key starters will be playing both offense and defense. The versatility of the Rams’ players is one of the reasons for their consistent success as a program.

Among those are Bronson Olevao, a senior running back, who will also play strong safety, and Caden Hilborn, a senior who started on both offensive and defensive lines last year.

“He played every position on the defensive line,” Benson said. “And he’s such a good athlete, we moved him from tackle, and we’re going to play him at tight end.”

Hilborn has size and speed, and most importantly, he embraces the grind. His ability to play tight end will give the Rams offensive options that they haven’t always had.

“His athleticism and size, we haven’t had in a tight end since Braden (Brown, 2014) that can go out and have an impact,” Benson said. “We’re running 90 percent of the time anyway. He’s a willing blocker and he can exploit some teams, some match-ups with him.”

The heart of the Highland program has always been its linemen.

“We have work to do on both sides of the ball,” Benson said. “I’m excited to see our offensive and defensive lines. That’s been the staple of Highland, and that front seven will be the backbone of whatever we do.”

The Rams have a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the football.

“We will have some growing pains in the secondary,” he said. “Ninety percent of the teams we play use the spread offense, so they’re going to attack and try to exploit you in the secondary.”

Highland Rams at a glance

Coach: Brody Benson begins his 13th season as Highland’s head coach. The Granger and SUU alum owns a 97-46 record.

Highland Offensive Snapshot

Offensive coordinator: Brandon Winn

2017 offensive production: 34.5 ppg (6thin 5A)

  • 6 returning starters
  • Triple Option

Key offensive returning starters:

  • Bronson Olevao, Sr, RB
  • Caden Hilborn, Sr, TE
  • Jackson Hawes, Sr, WR
  • Matt Lloyd, Sr, RB

Returning offensive starters:

Offensive newcomers to watch:

Benson on running back Bronson Olevao:

“His ability to make plays both offensively and defensively right now sets him apart from the other guys. He’s very explosive with the football. We haven’t gotten into special teams much yet, but he will do a lot for us on special teams.”

Benson on tight end Caden Hilborn:

“He’s such a good athlete that we moved him from tackle, and we’ll play him at tight end. He’s 6-foot-5, 285 pounds, and he can run and catch the ball. He’s a good leader, but he’s quiet. He leads by example. It’s hard to get him to talk, but when he does, people are listening. He’s not afraid to either praise or get after guys if they need it.”

Key’s for offensive success in 2018: The Rams offense will be run by quarterback Trajan Benson, who was injured last October and his hungry to get on the field for his senior season. He has a deep and talented group of running backs and some capable wide receivers. The development of the offensive line will be key, and keeping the starters healthy will be critical to the team’s success.

Rams Defensive Snapshot

Defensive coordinator: Kautai Olevao

2017 Defensive production: 23.3 ppg (10thin 5A)

  • 7 returning starters
  • Type of defense: Even Front

Key Returning defensive starters:

  • Matt Lloyd, CB
  • Bronson Olevao, SS
  • Jackson Hawes, DE
  • Caden Hilborn, DE

Defensive returning starters:

  • Colton White, OLB
  • Fusi Pakofe, DT

Defensive newcomers to watch:

  • Tevita Tuha, LB
  • Matt Lloyd, CB

Benson on Highland’s secondary:

“We’ll have some growing pains in the secondary. Coach Olevao is doing a good job of trying to take the thinking out of the defense and just get kids reacting and flying to the football. I think that’s when we’re best. When we pin our ears back and get after people.”

Benson on defensive end/wide receiver Jackson Hawes:

“He’s probably had one of the best off-seasons out of anybody. He put on weight, and he’s just done a great job in the weight room. He’s developed into a good leader. He’s not afraid to be vocal. He plays wide receiver and defensive end, but on certain packages, he could play outside linebacker. …He’s just a very cerebral kid, and I’m excited to see what he’s capable of this year.”

Keys for defensive success in 2018: The development of the secondary will be critical to Highland’s success. The program consistently has tough, athletic linemen and linebackers so if they can develop capable secondary athletes, they will be able to keep opponents in check.

Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: 1

Deseret News Region 6 prediction: 1

Key Region Game: at Lehi, Oct. 5

Bottom line: The Rams were chosen to finish first in Region 6 for good reason. They return enough talent that they should be able to exceed last year’s second-place region finish. The Rams have both talent and experience, and it appears they have chemistry. The questions about their success will come down to two things: keeping starters healthy and consistent execution. Teams know what Highland does, but they have, at least in the past, had a hard time stopping them.

2018 Schedule

  • Aug. 17 — DESERT HILLS, 7 p.m.
  • Aug. 24 — at Pine View, 7 p.m.
  • Aug. 31 — HILLCREST, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 7 — LONE PEAK, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 14 — at Murray, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 21 — at Skyline, 7 p.m.
  • Sept. 28 — OLYMPUS, 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 5 — at Lehi, 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 12 — WEST, 7 p.m.
  • Oct. 17 — FARMINGTON, 7 p.m.

Felts Facts for Highland

All-time record: 416-234-3 (61 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: 44

Current playoff appearance streak: 35 (1983-2017)

All-time playoff record: 56-39

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.

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Last 5

  • 2017 — 7-4 (4-1 in Region 6 - 5A Quarterfinals)
  • 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)

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Highland coaching history

  • 2006-current — Brody Benson (97-46)
  • 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)

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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

  • 2017 — Trayton Keyes, ATH
  • 2017 — Hunter Lotulelei, OG
  • 2017 — James Lombardo, OT
  • 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

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