Highlands looks to pick up where it left off

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Wednesday, September 2, 2020 | 10:54 PM


Toward the end of last football season, Highlands started to hit a stride.

In their final three games, the Golden Rams went 1-2, but losses to South Fayette and Latrobe came by a combined five points. They also produced three of their five highest-scoring outputs of the season.

Despite losing 10 seniors, the Golden Rams have a lot of talent returning, including their starting quarterback, leading rusher and an experienced offensive line. So Highlands coach Dom Girardi is hoping the experience his team developed at the end of last season can carry over.

“It’s something we’ve talked about numerous times. You know just picking up where we left off and building,” Girardi said. “I think a lot of what you saw last year was the youth and inexperience. So, as they gained that valuable experience on Friday nights, they got more comfortable, and we were able to do what we wanted to do easier. We’re just hoping to pick up where we left off.”

After throwing for 1,363 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, sophomore quarterback Chandler Thimons will be at the center of the Highlands offense this season. But if the Golden Rams want to take one step further, the pieces that surround the young quarterback will be crucial.

The returning experience on the offensive line will be a key part to keeping Thimons comfortable in the pocket. With seniors Jeremiah Nelson, Wahkeem Roman and Jeremiah Saunders returning, plus a few others, Thimons said he’ll feel secure when he drops back, and he’s excited to see what the offense can do this season.

“It’s a big help to have most of them returning,” Thimons said. “Keem (Roman), (Nelson), Dan (Thimons), who is only a junior, they are all going to be a big help.”

On top of blocking for Thimons, the line will also pave the way for junior running back Brock White, who carried the rushing load last year by gaining 809 yards and four touchdowns on 177 carries.

Kaleb White was the next-closest rusher with 35 carries. The Golden Rams also return wide receiver D.J. Loveland, who was the second-leading pass catcher last season with 23 receptions for 348 yards and four touchdowns.

With a core group of returnees and a slew of younger players coming up through the program, Loveland is excited to see what they can do this season and has been impressed during voluntary workouts.

“We’ve been throwing the ball really well, and our running back got a lot bigger. He’s already a powerhouse. He’s got more pounds on him,” Loveland said. “The younger guys are also looking good, a couple of good receivers, and the offensive line is still the same line from years past, so we’re solid all around.”

Now, all the Rams need to do is put it together.

“If you have a good group of guys coming back, which we do, you just want to see yourself continue to grow in your identity,” Girardi said. “You want to see yourself continue to do what you were doing in the past and do it better and more frequently with better consistency.”

Schedule

Coach: Dom Girardi

2019 record: 2-8, 2-5 in Class 4A Northwest 8 Conference

All-time record: 264-247-7

Date, Opponent, Time

9.11, at Knoch*, 7

9.18, Mars*, 7

9.25, at Hampton*, 7

10.2, at Plum*, 7

10.9, Indiana*, 7

10.16, at Armstrong*, 7

10.23, Greensburg Salem*, 7

*Class 4A Greater Allegheny Conference game

Statistical leaders

Passing: Chandler Thimons

84-170, 1,363 yards, 11 TDs

Receiving: Johnny Crise*

38-729 yards, 7 TDs

Rushing: Brock White

177-809 yards, 4 TDs

*Graduated

Fast facts

• Chandler Thimons ranked second among freshman WPIAL quarterbacks last year in passing yards.

• On defense, the Golden Rams return their top four tacklers — Jeramiah Nelson, Jeramiah Saunders, Wakeem Roman and DJ Loveland combined for 296 tackles.

• The Golden Rams traveled 344 miles last year for their road games. With its realignment to the Greater Allegheny Conference, Highlands will total 131 miles in travel.

• Highlands earned its final win of the season last year in overtime when Thimons completed a 10-yard pass to Loveland to push the Golden Rams ahead of New Castle, 28-22, on senior night.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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