By Joel Viss, Tribune Contributing Writer
The Highland High football team has a problem that most prep teams would be happy to have – a trio of talented running backs but not enough room for them to be on the field at the same time.
Seniors Kohner Cullimore and Dayton Huffman, as well as junior Daniel Wood, have all played vital roles this season in Highland’s ascent to the top of the 6A rankings.
¨Daniel, I think, is our home run hitter. He’s pretty shifty, but he still has a lot of power and a wicked stiff arm,¨ said Highland coach Brock Farrel. “I think Cullimore is our battering ram. He just loves to run people over. And Dayton, he gets lost. You just can’t find him, then he just pops out.
“It’s great having all three.”
The Highland backfield is crowded, but none of the backs mind sharing playing time or touches. Each player’s unique skillset has allowed the entire team to be successful early on, opening up Highland’s passing game and allowing the defense to remain off the field.
“It’s a relief knowing that we don’t have a drop off,” Cullimore said. “Any of us can go in and do the job. The key to our success as a running back corps is our line. They’re playing so good right now, and I definitely think that they’re the best in Highland history and one of the best in the state.”
Cullimore, Wood and Huffman have built a strong bond during their time in the program, admitting that the trio have become best friends.
That friendship has transferred to Highland’s offensive line, who has become a cohesive unit responsible for opening up running lanes and allowing the backs to be successful.
“We get along well,” Huffman said. “We’re all really good friends, and we wouldn’t trade anything for anyone else.”
While their bond was strong heading into the season, it has only grown with each win.
Through six games this season, Highland has been dominant, averaging over 43 points per game while giving up just over 15. The Hawks began the season a perfect 6-0 – the best start in school history – and are the No. 1 ranked team in the 6A conference according to the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s first playoff rankings of the season.
The running backs all have rushed for over 300 yards and have logged a combined 19 touchdowns.
But aside from their work on offense, Cullimore, Huffman and Wood have become key contributors on defense, too.
“They complement each other,” Farrel said. “They all play defense because they’re our best football players. That’s why they’re out there.”
Cullimore is second on the team in tackles with 34. Close behind him, however, is Wood with 23 followed by Huffman with 19.
Along with his success on the ground, Cullimore has also accounted for 106 yards through the air and a touchdown, emerging as a do-it-all player for Highland this season. But when playing both ways gets the best of him or the other two backs, they have confidence in one another to carry the load.
“We all have different strengths, and we have to use them,” Cullimore said. “I think it shows. If we need hard yards, we can get them. If we break away, we have the speed. Just knowing that you have no drop off, you can go out and take a breather and come back, take your plays. When you come back, you have nothing to worry about.”
With Wood being the youngest of the group, Cullimore and Huffman have taken him under their wing, offering advice throughout the season.
So far, it has worked.
Wood currently leads the team in rushing with 360 yards and six touchdowns. His physical, downhill style of running has allowed him to dominate unsuspecting defenders, as he often lowers his shoulder to shed would-be tacklers.
Along with his natural ability, Wood’s success has come on the heels of advice from both Cullimore and Huffman – two senior leaders on the team who’s time in the program is coming to a close.
“We’re teaching Danny just to stay hungry,” Huffman said. “Don’t overlook practices and always try your hardest because it’s going to be your senior year one day, and you’re not going to have it back.”
Just how far Highland will go this season remains to be seen, but as long as the three running backs are in each other’s corner, the Hawks are poised to be a legitimate title contender.