Highland High School’s football program experienced heartbreak last season as the Hawks were one play away from knocking off Chandler High in overtime to reach the state title game.
With less than three months until the 2019 season kicks off, Highland players are ready to build off the program’s best season in over a decade.
“Last year’s team really set the tone,” Highland wideout Zach Schroeder said. “I’m confident that we will go all the way this year. Open (Division) and everything.”
Schroeder is poised to take on a larger role in the Hawks’ offense this season. He spent the offseason running track at Highland, and set a new school record in the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 38 seconds at the state meet at Mesa Community College.
He also attended football camps, where he was often seen overpowering opposing defensive backs to make touchdown grabs. Schroeder’s combination of speed and power, along with his 6-foot-2 frame, gives Highland another threat on the outside along with returning wideout Tanner Crandall.
But there is still a question at quarterback for the Hawks, one the Highland coach Brock Farrel still doesn’t know the answer to.
“I don’t know who our quarterback is going to be, we are still figuring that out,” Farrel said. “But our energy is good and we practice at a championship level. Our execution isn’t there yet but it will come.”
Senior Tru Tanner, junior Taylor Siren and sophomore Gage Dayley are all competing for the starting quarterback position this season. Each have a certain set of skills that could turn into success on the field. But none have been able to separate themselves from the rest of the competition.
Highland will have several new starters on offense in 2019, but will still benefit from veteran experience with running back Danny Wood. Wood rushed for 598 yards last season and scored 8 touchdowns. He also saw time at linebacker, and had 82 total tackles.
He’s part of a defense that returns most of its starters from last season.
“Our defense is awesome,” Farrel said. “Most of them are back and they’re doing things we couldn’t do last year, and they’re doing it well. We might win games with our defense but that’s all that counts.”
Highland’s defense showed its speed and aggressiveness during the Hawks’ spring showcase on May 10. Basha, Marcos de Niza and Mesquite high schools all took part in the event. Like the other showcases held across the East Valley this spring, it gave athletes exposure to potentially play at the next level.
Even those not on the radar of college coaches got a chance to showcase their skill, an important aspect now that Highland moves into its summer workout program before the start of the 2019 season.
“Everybody got a rep, everybody got a look and I feel like they all took advantage of the time they had,” Farrel said. “We had a lot of guys making plays on both sides of the ball.
“I’m proud of them. This will be a yearly thing for us.”