It may very well be one of the most overlooked position groups Highland High School’s football program has had to offer the last two years.
Much of that stemmed from their young age last year, and slight drop off from the 2018 team that pushed Chandler to overtime in the 6A Conference semifinals. But now a group led by seasoned veterans, Highland’s linebacking corps is out to make its case as one of the best in the state, even if they do so quietly.
“Highland’s always been the underdog,” middle linebacker Kam Cullimore said. “We like it that way. It helps us get into that mindset of wanting to upset teams.”
Cullimore returns for his senior season after leading the Highland defense with 84 total tackles a year ago. He’s become a cerebral part of the Hawks’ defense, adding strength, speed and a natural ability to find the ball on any given play.
Cullimore’s ability to not only stuff the run but to defend against the pass compliments a group of linebackers with similar skillsets. Even then, however, each player adds something different to the group, a factor second-year Highland linebackers coach Dominic Willis says makes this group unique from those in year’s past.
“Each player has their own character, no one wants to be like each other or the person that was there before them,” Willis said. “I like that about the group. They’re special and will continue to be.
“They are the group that were freshman when coach Farrel became the head coach, so they know the system very well.”
Aside from junior Carson Allen’s recent appendix surgery, Willis expects to have a completely healthy group this season. Last year, Cannon Booker missed the season due to a torn ACL, MCL and meniscus.
A screw inserted to hold his patellar tendon in place came loose and was making contact with the bone, forcing him to undergo a minor procedure to have it removed. Booker expected to be cleared the Wednesday before Highland’s season opener against Desert Ridge.
Having missed all of last season, Booker is eager to once again suit up with his teammates.
“Rehab has gone perfectly fine and I’m ready to play,” Booker said. “This is the hardest any of us have ever worked this offseason. I think for some of us, we liked having a little extra time during the offseason. We’re ready to go.”
Despite Booker’s status having been up in the air leading up to the season opener, there’s no drop-off in talent.
Tyson Lomu, a 6-foot, 210-pound outside linebacker returns after recording 25 total tackles, three of which for a loss, as a junior. Garrett Bollwinkel, another senior, will also see playing time both in the middle and outside after recording 22 total tackles last season.
Josh Allen, yet another senior, is also expecting a big year from himself. He said he aims to be the best player he can be for his team and position group, which he feels can compete with anyone.
“I believe we are going to be one of the best linebacking corps is in the state,” Allen said. “We are a tight-knit group that works well together. We may be underrated but we are physical, and we know what we are doing.”
Beyond its linebackers, Highland’s defense has talent across the board. Cooper Brown and Sammy Siaki provide size at defensive end, while Ammon Allen and Taylor Siren man the secondary.
On offense, junior quarterback Gage Dayley and senior wideout Logan Kingsford will be a threat through the air, while senior Max Davis’ ability to run downhill will make opposing defenses respect Highland’s rushing attack.
Highland has the talent for a championship-caliber program, but Cullimore agrees it’ll take the entire team to come together as one, especially with a daunting schedule. If they’re able to do that, however, Cullimore believes the sky is the limit for this year’s Highland team.
“One of our goals is to have minimal to no errors per game,” Cullimore said. “Especially on defense, if we can hold a team to seven points, we know our offense can put the ball into the end zone.
“Obviously, our goal is to go to state and win it. But we just want to play hard every week.”