By Justin Gaither
Highland High School football is typically associated with its most notable alumnus Tampa Bay Buccaneers Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. This season; however, the Hawks are trying to make a new name for themselves: undefeated.
Highland is currently 4-0, their best start since beginning the 2014 season 5-1. It is worth noting; however, that the Hawks ended up going 5-6 that season, but that was under a different head coach and with a different team.
Brock Farrel is the current head coach at Highland and is in his first season with the program. Under Farrel, the Hawks have gotten off to a red-hot start, and according to him, it really all comes from their approach since the onset.
“I just wanted to instill a sense of passion and energy in everything that we do,” Farrel said. “If you’re
going to do something, do it right.”
Highland doesn’t necessarily have one or two standout players like is so common in high school sports today, but nevertheless the Hawks have found ways to win against quality opponents.
“I think the majority of our success has been that we have lots of really good senior leaders, especially on defense,” Farrel said. “They’ve kind of set the tone and they expected to do well, and they have.”
Before pursuing a career in coaching, Farrel played college football at Liberty University, a program on the cusp of making the jump to the FBS. Ironically enough, there are three total Liberty alumni on the coaching staff including Farrel and two defensive back coaches, but according to the former Liberty University Flame, that doesn’t tie directly into they’re coaching style.
“We don’t use it directly,” Farrel said. “You could say we’re trying to bring that winning culture that Liberty found out here to Gilbert, Arizona.”
While the Hawks may be feeling on top of the world for the time being, there are greater threats looming in region play. In their final six games of the season, Highland will face four teams ranked in the top-25 in the state of Arizona including the top-ranked Mountain Pointe Lions and the third-ranked Perry Pumas.
“We’ve just been focused on what we need to do,” Farrel added. “We’re going to do things a certain way because your opponent shouldn’t change the way you prepare for the game.”
Coach Farrel is not unaware of the challenges the future holds for his team, but he believes there is a reason why they are currently ranked 13th in the state and he intends to show everyone why.
“We just want to concentrate on one week at a time, I want to try and set us up for the best playoff scenario possible,” Farrel said. “On one night, we can be better than a Chandler or a Mountain Pointe…for one night we might be the best team in Arizona.”
The Hawks take on the winless Westview Knights this Friday, September 15th with kickoff set for 7:00 p.m. at Highland High School during what is also homecoming weekend. Although Westview hasn’t managed a win in their first three games of the season, all three losses have been by one score for a total of 14 points between them. The Knights have had at least eight wins in each of their last ten seasons and aren’t to be overlooked.
“Even though they’re winless they’re really dangerous,” Farrel said. “They’re different than anyone else we’re going to play and they’re tough and they’re fast and it’s going to take us all to win.”
Even with all of this success on the heels of what has been largely disappointment for Highland High football fans in the last few seasons, coach Farrel, like any good coach, deflects the glory and defers it instead to his players.
“Pretty much from day one they’ve been all in and they’ve led the way in the how I wanted things done,” Farrel said. “I think they deserve most of the credit for what’s been going on around here.”