Photo By Steve Conner - #21 Kaleb Demuzio
Written by Brandon Hill
After 20 years and five state titles, Head Coach Gino Mariani shows no sign of slowing down his high-octane Highland Rams.
Led by explosive running back Kaleb Demuzio, the Rams look poised at another run at the state title after falling short in 2017 to Rocky Mountain. A tough conference slate coupled with an even more gruesome playoff schedule kept Highland just short at a repeat appearance.
Last year’s Rams squad finished the year 8-4, with their final loss coming to Coeur d’Alene in the state playoff semifinals. The week before, Highland had knocked off the state’s most electric offense in the Borah Lions, led by quarterback Austin Bolt.
But Mariani is no stranger to adversity and looks to continue building a dominant squad capable of going the distance.
A large part of the building process comes on the offensive side of the ball, where Mariani has moved last year’s quarterback Easton Durham out from under center.
“Easton Durham has made the transition from quarterback to receiver, running back and defensive back and is able to show his athletic ability in many positions,” he said. “That will free him up to just be an athlete.”
The move doesn’t come from a lack of production, as Durham tallied more than 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Durham also finished as the second-leading rusher on the team with 793 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Jack Whitmer, Durham’s backup last year, returns to the squad, but Mariani did not mention who would be his signal-caller Week 1.
While Durham will cycle through the offense wherever he can, Demuzio will once again be cemented at the running back position, a place he more than excelled last year. Demuzio finished 2019 with 1,250 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, averaging just under eight yards a carry.
But unlike 2019, Demuzio might not be the sole star of Highland’s offensive strategy, Mariani said.
“All-State running back Kaleb Demuzio will be featured in many ways just like last year. We have a very physical offensive line which bodes well for our backs,” he said. “We will be a more balanced team from what you saw last year where we were run-heavy.”
On defense, Mariani will be without linebacker Dylan Jester, the team’s leading tackler last year with 92. Senior defensive lineman Luke Togiai will be slated as the new leader for the Ram defense. Togiai locked down the edge in 2019 and proved his ability to break through the line with ease, totaling a team-high nine sacks.
The Rams were scheduled to open the season against Mountain View Aug. 21. But due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Mavericks have delayed the start to their year. Highland instead will open against a pair of Utah schools before starting in-state competition against Century Sept. 11.
The Rams, as of now, also have yet to solidify a home field, as Holt Arena in Pocatello will be closed this fall due to COVID-19. Stay tuned to IdahoSports.com for continued updates.