Highland High School
Conference: 5A District 5-6 Conference
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Head Coach: Gino Mariani
Years as Head Coach: 16th Season
Previous Experience: Assistant at Pocatello
Head coach at Pocatello
Record Last Year: 6-4
State Titles: Ten total – 1984, 1987, 1993, 1995, 1997, 1998, 20
Cade Guiberson, OT, 12
Todd Cranor, OG, 12
Colton Heintz, C, 11
Landon Whitmore, OG, 12
Ivan Duran, OT, 12
Sam Lida, TE, 12
Kyle Taylor, WR, 12
Tommy Togiai, DT, 12
Kolman Farnsworth, LB, 12
Sam Horsely, DB, 12
Coby Steed, DE, 12
Returning Players with Honors:
Tommy Togiai – First Team All-Idaho & All-Conference
Kolman Farnsworth – Second Team All-Idaho & All-Conference
Colton Heintz – First Team All-Conference
Sam Liday – First Team All-Conference
Kyle Taylor – First Team All-Conference
Coby Steed – Second Team All-Conference
Key Players lost from last year:
Aisa Kelemete, DE
Aren Manu, LB
Hayden Foltz, DB
Karson Eborn, DB
Vince Kelemete, DT
Photo By: Willy Harris - #71 Tommy Togiai
Incoming impact players:
Daxton Carr, WR, 12
Garrett Crane, DE, 12
Landon Demuzzio, ATH, 11
Koby Tracy, QB, 11
Treyvan Jefferson, DB, 12
Cade Guiberson, OT, 12
Written by: Matt Harris
Where were you in 1994?
Why, you ask? Well, that was the last time that Highland missed the 5A state playoffs. Seriously.
The Rams have qualified for the state tournament for 22 straight seasons. It certainly speaks to the organization of the Highland football program and the great tradition that continues to be carried throughout the school on the hill in Pocatello.
“At Highland, we have certain expectations and will work to fulfill them,” said head coach Gino Mariani, now in his 16th season leading the Rams.
Last season’s 6-4 record and state quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Mountain View was disappointing by Highland’s standards, but the Rams have continued to work and prepare for this season ever since the last one concluded.
“Our spring and summer workouts have been very well attended with a core group of senior and junior leaders. These two classes have been very cohesive in the offseason,” said Mariani.
Leadership is a big focus for Highland this season. They want to raise the bar by raising each other up.
“Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said, ‘If you can raise the level of effort and performance in those around you, you are officially a leader’. We are looking to our leaders to help shape our athletes in becoming elite players,” Mariani said. “We have a tremendous core at this point, they just need to pull guys with them and create an elite work ethic.”
That core of leaders hopes to help lead Highland back to the promised land and to try to secure a record 11th state championship since the IHSAA-sanctioned era began in 1979.
The Rams will turn to junior quarterback Koby Tracy this season as the lead man under center. And he will have plenty of protection up front this year. His predecessor, Payton McCarthy, was behind a brand new, rebuilt offensive line last season. This year, there is plenty of experience to go around.
“We have our entire offensive line back from last year,” Mariani said. “With a year of varsity experience, I think this group can be very special this season.”
The five young men anchoring the offensive line this season include seniors Cade Guiberson and Ivan Duran at tackle, Todd Cranor and Landon Whitmore at guard, and junior Colton Heintz at center. They should give Tracy plenty of time to make reads and decisions in the backfield.
From a skill position standpoint, Tracy will have plenty of weapons to work with. Senior wide receiver Kyle Taylor looks to lead a group which now includes 6’7” senior basketball standout Daxton Carr. Senior tight end Sam Liday is a reliable target and junior Landon Demuzzio is a position-less player who will fit into the offense where he is needed, whether it be at wideout or in the backfield.
“I believe we can work to be balanced in the run and pass game, which will help us execute at a high level,” said Mariani, who added that his team needs to cut down on the turnovers and be more of a ball control team in 2017.
Mariani went on to say that the offense has plenty of upside and he’s looking forward to seeing it blossom.
“I’m most excited about our experience on the offensive line and the potential for an explosive offense. It’s makes this team an exciting one to coach,” he said.
Defensively, the Rams will be without the services of several standout players due to graduation, including defensive linemen Aisa and Vince Kelemete, linebacker Aren Manu, and defensive backs Hayden Foltz and Karson Eborn.
“All of these guys were tough, physical, and knowledgeable in our schemes,” Mariani said. Aisa Kelemete now plays at Boise State, while Aren Manu suits up for Idaho State.
The loss of these fine players doesn’t mean that the cupboard is bare at Highland. Returning to the line is senior All-State defensive tackle Tommy Togiai, a force to be reckoned with on the line who regularly battles double and sometimes triple teams. He will be joined up front by senior defensive ends Coby Steed and Garrett Crane. Mariani added that just because the personnel changes, the philosophy remains the same.
“We still want to be physical in the trenches like in past years,” he said. “Tommy will continue that tradition for us. We can be very physical at the point of attack and that makes us tough.”
Togiai is a highly sought after recruit, with many Power-5 conference schools courting the Highland lineman including USC, Washington, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Utah. While he has yet to make a decision on where to continue his football career, he wants to make sure that he can elevate those around him at Highland before his high school football career comes to a close.
Joining Togiai and the linemen in the front seven is senior All-State linebacker Kolmon Farnsworth. The secondary brings back senior defensive back Sam Horsely, along with fellow senior Treyvan Jefferson.
“We have kids who will fly around and make plays, which is what we want,” said Mariani. “We want them to play to the whistle.” He added that their main goal is to create more turnovers as a defensive unit than they did in 2016.
A key to success this season will be how quickly the new starters can adjust to their environment and become a cohesive unit on the field.
“Our X-factor is having our experienced guys bringing inexperienced guys up to speed at the varsity level,” Mariani said.
Highland’s season opener is the last official game of Week 1 – their annual contest in the Rocky Mountain Rumble at Holt Arena on Aug. 26. The Rams will face the Galena Grizzlies of Reno, Nevada. Then, on Sept. 1 the black-and-red will take on the Eagle Mustangs out of District 3 at Holt Arena. The team then travels westward to Boise on Sept. 8 to face the Capital Eagles at Dona Larsen Park. Those first three games will be a great indicator to show where the Rams stand on a state level.
The Rams then return back to Holt Arena for three straight contests. They’ll face Century on Sept. 15, followed by the annual Black n’ Blue Bowl against rival Pocatello on Sept. 22. That particular rivalry has been more of Highland beating Pocatello black and blue in recent seasons – the Rams have won that contest six years in a row by an average margin of 32.7 points per game. Following that contest, Highland will open their conference schedule against Bonneville on Sept. 29.
The team then travels to the Upper Valley for two consecutive weeks when they face Madison on Oct. 6 and Rigby on Oct. 13. Highland finishes the regular season at Holt Arena against Hillcrest on Oct. 20. Mariani says the game to circle on your calendars involves a trip to Rexburg.
“It’s the must-see game of the year on our schedule,” he said. “There may be mutual respect, but not a lot of like.”
If prior history serves as an indicator, that particular conference game could potentially be a de-facto district title game. However, Mariani said that he feels the conference is tough from top to bottom.
“Madison has reloaded and Hillcrest will have their most experienced team yet,” he said. “Both Rigby and Bonneville have tremendous young talent.”
Highland certainly appears to be in position to go after a 23rd straight state tournament berth. But the Rams all know that the work has to be put in and that talent can’t do it alone. If the Rams can find their gears on offense quickly and establish a strong defensive presence early on, they could contend for a state championship.
After all, competing for a state title isn’t just a goal at Highland. It’s a way of life.