Note: Highland finished with an 8-5 overall record in 2012 and was third in Region 6 with a 3-2 record. It lost to Mountain Crest 14-6 in the semifinals of the 4A tournament.
SALT LAKE CITY — The Highland High offense has been a model of consistency over the years. Players come and go, but production from the triple option is never worrisome.
On the other hand, when the Rams are talented and deep on the defensive side of the ball, they’re awfully hard to beat.
That was the case during a championship run in 2010, and it’s the case in 2013.
“I feel really good about our guys right now because I think we’ll be really tough with our front seven,” Highland coach Brody Benson said. “I’ve always said that that’s the most important thing — especially in high school football. Right now, we’re as good as we were in 2010, I think — minus Nate (Orchard). I don’t think Nate is a guy you can replace, but guys like Bryan (Mone) definitely gives us pieces of the puzzle where we can be very tough and effective up front.”
Highland’s defensive line rivals many colleges in terms of size and power. Mone, the state’s top recruit who has already committed to Michigan, checks in at 6 foot 4 and 330 pounds. In terms of physical superiority, Mone resembles another former Highland defensive tackle who graduated in 2001 — Haloti Ngata.
“I haven’t coached a kid that’s been able to be as physically dominate as him, and I can’t really remember playing a guy like him,” Benson said of Mone. “(To) face a guy like Bryan, who is versatile as him being able to play on the inside or the outside, teams have to change what they’re doing. He’s definitely part of every team’s game plan.”
Mone is joined upfront by Pita Tonga (6-2, 275 pounds), who is generating interest from Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, USC, Utah and Wisconsin, Sulias Brown (5-11, 225 pounds), Josh Keele (5-11, 225 pounds) and Cody Hilborn (6-2, 305 pounds), who will rotate frequently.
“We’ve got some guys that are really physically, imposing, smart football players. I think we’re going to be able to create some mismatches for teams that we face,” Benson said. “If you can have the ability to pressure with four guys and be able to drop seven in coverage then you’re going to be tough. I think that’s something we’re going to have the ability to do this year with the guys we have.”
The ultimate goal is to accomplish the same feat as Highland's 2010 class — winning a state title. But to do that, the Rams must remember that the season is a marathon, not a sprint.
“I think when you start off the season you’re obviously going to have that as one of your goals,” Benson said. “ I think keeping the kids grounded and always focused on getting better and not solely looking towards the end of the season (is important). You have to be able to regroup every Monday. That’s something that’s sometimes tough — not only for players but for coaches to do. You can’t get wrapped up in thinking about four or five weeks away and prepare for each opponent differently.”
Highland Rams at a glance
Coach: This marks Brody Benson’s eighth season as the coach at Highland. During his time with the Rams he’s had a 60-27 record. He’s a graduate of Granger High and Southern Utah University.
(6 returning starters; triple-option offense)
Jamahl Greer takes over under center this season. The quarterback position is always important to the success of any offense, but especially in the triple option. Benson expressed confidence in the new field general.
“Jamahl is really a guy who has dedicated himself to the weight room in the offseason,” Benson said. “Physically he’s there. Now it’s just getting him mentally prepared to make decisions on the fly. He’s picking it up, and I feel very comfortable with him pulling the trigger.”
Highland will rotate running backs by committee this season: Viliami Sekona, Pisinga Vaenuku and Dewey Clark, who Benson described as “big enough body to play fullback and take that pounding but also a good enough athlete to get out on the wing." They all will be featured at fullback in different sets.
Sharing wingback responsibilities will be Adam Webber, Thomas Pembroke and Justice Jones. “I think he’ll be able to open some eyes," Benson said of Jones. "He’s very good with the ball in his hands going north and south."
Benson also noted that the offense is “picking up right now” and Ben Bergeson has emerged as the main option at receiver in the passing game.
(6 returning starters)
In addition to the defensive line, Webber is one of the top unknown talents in the state. He’s currently overlooked at the next level because of his short stature, but after starting the past two seasons he’s racked up 215 tackles, 3 1/2 sacks and three interceptions.
However, apart from the obvious physical contributions, Webber’s mental intangibles influence the defense.
“He’s a leader. He’s a kid that’s really tried to develop himself as that. A lot of the times we label these kids as team captains and leaders, but don’t really give them a whole a lot of skills in which to go out and do it the right way,” Benson said. “Adam has really been who wants to be a leader, wants to do it the right way and wants the tools to do that. He listens to what you say. You give him a book to read or watch this movie and he soaks it in. When he gets out on the field, in a lot of ways, he’s able to be a coach out on the field.”
Coaches preseason Region 6 straw poll: Second
Deseret News Region 6 prediction: Second
Bottom line: Highland definitely has the talent to contend not only for a region title, but also a state championship. It pulled the short end of the straw and travels to East and Bountiful — making the task extremely difficult. The Rams jump right into tough competition with games against Mountain Crest, Syracuse and Herriman before their first region game against an improved Kearns team. Making the playoffs is a foregone conclusion — how far this team goes is dependent upon how disruptive the defense is.
Highland coaching history
2006-current — Brody Benson (60-27)
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 — Nata Orchard, WR/DL
Deseret News First Team all-staters the past 10 years
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
2006 — Sean Swenson, QB
2006 — Liam McNally, RB
2006 — Braden Brown, TE
2006 — Tim Bickmore, OL
2005 — Thomas Bradley, QB
2005 — Jake Orchard, WR
2005 — David Nafe, DL
2005 — Brett Smith, DB
2004 — Bo McNally, QB
2004 — Marcus Mailei, RB
2004 — David Fainu, OL
2003 — Chris Sullivan, TE
To view second team and honorable mention all-staters through the years, check out the Deseret News All-State Archives.