Leaving the 2020 6A State Championship empty-handed, the Highland Hawks are driven to finish what they started.
“Sometimes you have to get to the mountaintop before you can step on the peak, we are trying to get to the peak this year,” says defensive coordinator Jason Lyons.
Highland does not have the star-caliber players that nearby high schools do, but what they do possess is strength in numbers. Head coach Brock Farrel has assembled this program on depth. The Hawks have only one player ranked in the current top 60 in the state of Arizona. According to 247sports, three-year starting quarterback Gage Dayley is ranked in Arizona’s 2022 top players. Dayley does not ride high being the only ranked player.
He knows how deep this team is.
“We have a main guy at every position and a lot of guys who aren’t too far behind,” says Dayley.
As the leader of the offense, Dayley knows that last year was unique compared to this year’s Highland offense. Being the starting quarterback for the third year in a row, Dayley only had one weapon in the backfield with him, Southern Utah commit Max Davis. The year 2021 has presented the Hawks with a completely new offensive scheme. Two weeks into the season, eight players have carried the ball behind the offensive line.
The speed out of the backfield is not the Hawks’ only offensive weapon, as the receiving core has10 explosive targets as well. After two weeks under the lights, eight different players have put up points for their squad. Highland is 2-0 on Fridays, and the offense has exceeded expectations, but Highland’s defense is where it all starts.
Coach Bear Bryant’s saying, “Defense wins championships,” reigns true for the Hawks. The defense has nine new starters on that side of the ball, but to no surprise that is not a hitch for them.
“Our goal is to play 22 kids a night,” linebacker coach Dominic Willis said. “This defense is deep and each kid is eager to see the field.”
Willis described the defense as “young.” The seniors are prominent with two senior cornerbacks, two senior defensive linemen, and three senior linebackers. With nine new starters, there is a highlight on underclassmen. Seven seniors are in the defensive rotation, but the sophomores and juniors are not lacking in talent.
Attitude and communication are vital to this team’s success. They have the numbers and have the talent. “Each kid’s got their special ability and they bring something to the table,” says Lyons.
Coaches and coordinators are not the only ones who have been preaching to the underclassmen. Senior leaders, including Dayley and defensive end Fisher Camac, have inspired the younger players to want to win and adapt to this team's style of play.
“We are a young team, but we also have our seniors leading the pack,” says Dayley.
Players from last year’s playoff run are chasing the gold once again. Highland football is built on character and passion. The driving force behind this team, according to Dayley, is “resilience.” Each day the team steps foot onto the field, they prioritize perfection.
“We try to minimize errors in practice,” Dayley says.
When mistakes occur, they look to bounce back with their eyes to the sky.
“Leaders need to keep their heads up to keep everyone else’s head up,” Camac says.
With the depth Highland has, it has to prioritize chemistry and perfection after each snap. The Hawks strive to get better week by week. Players are itching to see the field.
Highland’s work ethic, passion, and strength in numbers show signs of the gold in their grasp.