I want to make sure each kid has a great experience playing here. When it’s time to get down to business, you do that. But we’re all coaching football, playing football because it’s the sport we love and it needs to be fun —Coach Joel Higginson
For some high school football programs, a summer of optimism has been replaced by weekly, frustrating reality checks
Then there are other programs that have defied expectations week by week and find themselves on the cusp of making the playoffs when nobody gave them a chance.
Salem Hills certainly falls into the latter category.
Coming off a 3-7 record last season, the Skyhawks were pegged to finish dead last in Region 8 by the league’s coaches in a preseason straw poll. Incredibly though, heading into Week 9 Salem Hills owns a 7-1 record and is in the driver’s seat for a second-place finish in Region 8.
Salem Hills still must beat Maple Mountain this Friday and then Spanish Fork the following Thursday to clinch a home playoff game, but after the past two weeks there’s no reason to think coach Joel Higginson’s team won’t.
Two weeks ago Salem Hills beat Orem 25-20, reversing a 43-3 score from the year before.
Last week the Skyhawks overcame a 27-0 halftime deficit to Springville to rally for a stunning 35-27 victory.
“We came over here and we weren’t prepared for how fast and big they were and they just punched us right in the mouth,” Higginson told reporters after the game last Wednesday. “We went in at halftime and said, ‘Your backs are against the wall. You have nothing to lose now, so someone needs to start having some fun and enjoying something in this night.’”
Chad Peterson threw four touchdown passes — to four different receivers — to spearhead the stunning rally. The victory was Salem Hills’ fourth straight since losing to Timpview 40-7 in Week 4, and having fun is a big reason why.
In 2011, the year before Spanish Fork grad Higginson took over the program, Salem Hills only won two games.
One of the first things Higginson tried implementing when he took over the program last season was creating a fun environment for everyone.
“I want to make sure each kid has a great experience playing here. When it’s time to get down to business, you do that. But we’re all coaching football, playing football because it’s the sport we love and it needs to be fun,” said Higginson.
It’s certainly more fun when you’re winning, and Salem Hills has made a habit of it this year, winning as many games this season as in the previous three combined. That success has helped change the perception that Salem Hills is only a baseball school.