Head Coach: Gino Mariani
Years as Head Coach: 17th Season
Previous Experience: 11 Years at Pocatello
Record Last Year: 10-1
State Titles: 84, 87, 93, 95, 97, 98, 00, 02, 08, 14, 17
Koby Tracy, QB, 12
Landon Demuzio, RB, 12
Jesus Garcia, RB, 12
Coleton Heinz, OL, 12
Drake Hill, TE, 12
Kamiah Olsen, DT, 11
Micah Naumu, LB, 12
Jayden Whitworth, DB, 12
Carter Fellows, DB, 12
Jared Piper-Perez, OL, 12
Returning Players with Honors:
Koby Tracy - 1st Team All-Conference QB, 2nd Team All-State QB
Landon Demuzio - 1st Team All-Conference RB, 2nd Team All-State RB
Coleton Heinz - 1st Team All-Conference OL
Micah Naumu - 2nd Team All-Conference LB
Key Players lost from last year:
Tommy Togiai, DT
Kolmon Farnsworth, LB
Sam Liday, TE
Garrett Crane, DE
Sam Horsely, DB
Photo By: Steve Conner - #16 Kobe Tracy
Incoming impact players:
Jack Hall, DE, 12
Isaiah Wright, OL, 11
Jayden Bell, DB, 11
Andrew Van Sickle, WR, 12
Austin Richards, WR, 12
Logan Armstrong, DB/K, 12
Dalton Cox, DB, 12
Taylor Kerr, LB, 12
Tanner Drury, OL, 12
Luke Togiai, DT, 10
Cedar Washakie, DE, 11
Iafeta Galo, DT, 12
JJ Flores, DT, 11
Josh Potter, RB, 11
Dalton Jones, RB, 11
Blake Williamson, OL, 11
Connor O’Hearn, OL, 11
Jacob Kowallis, OL, 11
Written By: Matt Harris
For the 11th time in the IHSAA-era, the Highland Rams raised the blue trophy as champions of Idaho’s largest classification to cap off the 2017 season. Their title win broke the tie with Snake River for most championships in Idaho history.
And for the Rams, the best part of it all may be that it happened all on their home field.
“Playing a winning a state title in the dome is as good as it gets,” said head coach Gino Mariani of his team’s 14-8 victory over Coeur d’Alene last November. “Playing in front of a sold out crowd with football frenzied fans is a special feeling. The City of Pocatello has some of the best football fans in Idaho who appreciate well-played football.”
The Rams would love to make it back-to-back titles in 2018 and bring back a number of key players on offense that could help lead them to that goal.
Back in the fold in 2018 is senior starting quarterback Koby Tracy, who will lead Highland’s West Coast Offense for the second straight year. Tracy’s return marks the first time since Neil Jewell in 2011-2012 to have started at quarterback in consecutive seasons for the Rams.
Tracy is joined by returning senior running backs Landon Demuzio and Jesus Garcia in the backfield. Juniors Josh Potter and Dalton Jones are expected to see time at the position as well. Senior Drake Hill will line up at tight end and be a big target for Tracy. Senior Andrew Van Sickle is expected to make an impact at wide receiver, along with fellow seniors Austin Richards and Alex Orr.
Up front, senior Coleton Heinz is back to lead the offensive line. He will be joined by seniors Tanner Drury and Jared Piper-Perez, along with juniors Isaiah Wright, Blake Williamson, Connor O’Hearn, and Jacob Kowallis.
“We have a lot of experienced backs, wide receivers and tight ends with Koby, Landon, Jesus, Drake, Austin and Andrew and Alex all seeing significant time last year,” said Mariani. “We should be able to move the ball and put points on the board. Controlling the clock and tempo is important to us.”
Mariani added that consistency in their execution of the offense was a point of emphasis for improvement heading into the season, along with scoring more points. Highland averaged 31.6 points per game in 2017.
“7-on-7 workouts were great for us this summer and a lot of timing was perfected. I think our skilled kids on offense are talented and understand the offense well,” he said.
Defensively, there are a lot of fresh faces who are eager to make their impact. They will have quite a standard to try to match and exceed.
“If we could come even near last year’s defensive performance, I would be very pleased,” said Mariani. “Last year’s defense was incredible. They carried us to a title.”
Of course, the big name on the defense last year was Ohio State signee Tommy Togiai, the 2017 5A All-Idaho Player of the Year. He was joined by a plethora of talented players, including linebacker Kolmon Farnsworth, defensive end Garrett Crane, and defensive back Sam Horsely. Combined together, these now-graduated players led the Rams defense to a stifling 11.1 points against per game average.
So, how will Highland replace a player like Togiai and the cast that was around him?
“You can’t replace a kid like Tommy and what he was able to do last season,” Mariani said. “We have some tough, physical players on our defensive line who will continue to get better every game. They watched and learned how a real Division-I player works and plays and leads. These athletes know what it takes and how it is done.”
There is plenty of talent waiting in the wings for their shot on defense. Junior Kamiah Olson will help lead the way on the defensive line along with seniors Jack Hall and Iafeta Galo, juniors Cedar Washakie and JJ Flores, and sophomore Luke Togiai.
The linebacking corps will be anchored by senior Micah Naumu. He will be joined by fellow senior Taylor Kerr in patrolling the middle of the defense. The secondary will look to seniors Jayden Whitworth and Carter Fellows for leadership, with seniors Dalton Cox and Logan Armstrong adding to the corps along with junior Jayden Bell.
“Our defensive backs all have some varsity experience and are very intelligent,” said Mariani, who added his defense will line up in a 4-3 base scheme. “Our defensive line should be impressive once again. Big, physical, and fast players. I’m excited about the line and the young kids who have been patiently waiting for their opportunity to shine.”
Even with the changes in personnel on both sides of the ball and the departure of a strong senior class, Mariani said that his team will have excellent senior leadership this season because of their attention to detail.
“This year’s senior group really had a significant role in last year’s success,” he said. “They paid attention to details that the previous senior class handed down to them. Their leadership and execution will carry this team for the duration of the season and into the playoffs.” Highland has not missed the playoffs since 1989.
Highland kicks off another high school football season on Aug. 25 when they play in the finale of the 11th Annual Rocky Mountain Rumble at Holt Arena. They will face the Shadow Ridge Mustangs of Las Vegas, Nevada. The following week, they will host Ridgeline (UT) in a Thursday tilt at the dome.
The Rams will play three of their four September games on the road, starting on Sept. 7 at Twin Falls. Highland then takes on longtime cross-town rival Pocatello in the Black n’ Blue Bowl on Sept. 14. A major showdown awaits the Rams on Sept. 21 when they travel northward to face Coeur d’Alene in a state championship rematch.
The red-and-black then open conference play in their final road contest of the regular season on Sept. 28 when they face Thunder Ridge. A non-conference game against Century awaits the Rams on Oct. 4, before Highland completes their schedule with conference matchups against Madison on Oct. 12 and Rigby on Oct. 19.
“With a new school in Thunder Ridge comes more questions than answers until the games are played,” said Mariani when asked his thoughts on their conference. “Highland, Madison, and Rigby all have varsity experienced groups and were playoff teams from a year ago. It should be a battle royale!”
The target is certainly on the Rams’ backs heading into the season. How quickly the new starters become accustomed to their roles may play a big role in how far Highland goes in 2018. But the Rams are confident they have what it takes to get the job done.
“Our kids bought into workouts over the summer and understand what it takes to grind it out for 100 days,” said Mariani. “We have great numbers participating and we are looking to continue a winning tradition.”