Even when Latu Heimuli first suited up for Highland, he quickly showed signs he wasn't going to be a typical everyday lineman.
As a sophomore, Heimuli impressed the Rams' coaching staff with his football intelligence and his drive to improve his blocking techniques. He quickly won a starting job a rarity for a young player.
Heimuli proved to be no flash in the pan. Now entering his senior year, he has emerged as one of the best defensive linemen in the state.
Such an evolution from raw talent to defensive standout has come about mainly because Heimuli has shown he can also do whatever is asked of him on the other side of the ball.
"That's helped him develop as a defensive lineman playing on both sides of the ball," Highland coach Brody Benson said. "He understands offense. He understands what offensive linemen are trying to do to him."
Heimuli parlayed that understanding into a monster junior season. He led the Rams with 50 tackles including 10 for loss last fall. His efforts ended up being a major driving force behind a defensive unit that allowed only 16 points per game in 2007.
Plenty of colleges have taken notice. Arizona and Colorado made the initial scholarship offers to Heimuli. Nebraska also has shown a high degree of interest in the senior, and he plans to take a campus visit there in a few weeks. Utah, BYU, Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona State, Florida and Georgia have all thrown their hats into the ring in pursuit of his services as well.
Beyond the hype and glamour of recruiting, however, Heimuli still feels like he is a work in progress and is driven to prove himself on the field.
"I still have a lot of areas to improve on," Heimuli said. "I don't want to say I'm the best at lineman. I just need to get better and work harder, and we'll see when the season comes how everything goes."
Hard work is Heimuli's trademark whether on the football field or starting at center for Highland on the basketball court. It helps him deal with the expectations that come with being a three-year starter and a senior leader.
Heimuli said it does create pressure to have so many teammates counting on him to perform well. But he embraces that pressure, because it gives him a chance to set the right kind of tone in practices and in games.
"I like getting things done the way I want them," Heimuli said. "I hate depending on other people to get it done, because I don't know if it will get done."
Heimuli's quest to better himself has made him the perfect mentor for younger teammates. And his experience gives him authority as a leader.
During his time in a Ram uniform, Heimuli has played at nearly every position on both lines. His understanding of what needs to be done to win is driving him to push the team to an even higher level."He's taken ownership of this team," Benson said. "He wants to have a great season. He wants his team to have a great season. And he's willing to put in the time and energy to achieve that. If people aren't willing to do that, he's going to let them know."
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