Team-first mentality helps Highlands football to 4-0 start

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Tuesday, September 21, 2021 | 9:44 AM


The Highlands football team fans cheer for on Friday nights isn’t the product of just a week’s worth of practice.

They Golden Rams are the product of a year-long commitment and an attitude that fifth-year coach Dom Girardi has instilled from the moment he took over the program.

“Every day I tell them that we have to be the best team that we have been this year,” Girardi said. “Today, we have to be better than yesterday. Tomorrow, we have to be better than we were today.”

The Golden Rams’ 4-0 start hasn’t been fueled by a few great players. There’s no generational talent. And there isn’t a blue-chip Division I recruit on the roster. The coaching staff has emphasized team football.

In all three phases of the game, Highlands (4-0, 1-0) plays sound fundamental football. And, most importantly, the Rams haven’t beaten themselves.

“He makes it very clear that it’s a team sport,” senior captain Jrake Burford said of Girardi. “If people are complaining, he makes sure he straightens them out. He tells them that even though you’re not getting the ball, you’re still playing your part.”

Burford is just one piece of a dynamic Rams receiving corps that also includes junior Landan Sigorella and sophomore Aaran Randolph.

Girardi’s diverse offensive scheme has allowed eight players score touchdowns.

The offense is averaging 36.5 points per game and has scored at least 22 points in each of its first four games.

It was Girardi’s idea to put in a pass play during halftime of last Friday’s 22-7 win over Mars. Girardi called the play twice in the second half, and both times it went to Signorella for a touchdown, helping to secure the win.

“What I’ve been super impressed with Dom here is the level of simplicity, yet complexity, with his offense,” offensive line coach Scott Newell said.

Newell cut his teeth in coaching ranks 10 years ago at Highlands under former coach Sam Albert. Newell moved on to numerous coaching positions at Kiski Area for six years before returning to Highlands this season.

“The way (Girardi) comes up with gameplans and the way he puts together his offensive packages is as good as anyone that I have been around,” Newell said.

Burford echoed Newell’s sentiments, saying Girardi’s experience at coaching at different levels of football is what helps lead to the team-first mentality.

“I think that most of it is knowing the game of football,” Burford said. “He’s coached multiple places, and he knows how kids are. I feel like that is the main reason. And, he is very smart football-wise.”

The leadership in the locker room is another reason this year’s Golden Rams have found success, according to the players, who have bought into a team-first mentality.

“Everybody respects everybody. Everybody has a voice, and everybody matters,” senior captain Caliel Long said. “I feel like it’s a contagious atmosphere with everyone. One person gets juiced, up and it feeds the next person. We feed off each other’s energy, and that’s why we can’t have any ‘Debbie downers’ over here.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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