SoCal speed merchant Hightower headed north

WHEN IDAHO GAINED A VERBAL PLEDGE LAST NOVEMBER from Chaparral High School star athlete LLOYD HIGHTOWER (5-9, 165, 4.35-40), one of the top prospects on UI's board, conventional wisdom pegged him as a corner. And why not? His production on that side of the ball was what caught the attention of many. But, man, did Coach Petrino have a surprise for the fleet-footed standout on his official visit.

Recruiting speed is never a bad thing, and the Idaho coaching staff under head coach Paul Petrino has been focused on team speed for the last three years. That work started paying off last season as the Vandals accumulated the most wins in a single season since the 2010 campaign. Strides were made on both sides of the ball, but where it really started coming into view was on the offensive side of the ball, where Idaho’s passing attack ranked No.2 in the Sun Belt Conference and No.27 nationally. Lose a 1000-yard receiver mid-season? No problem, the Vandals had Callen Hightower in the hopper to fill the void. And that’s after two of the top three receivers – Jacob Sannon and David Ungerer – were lost for the season before the season really got started.

Until last season, it had been years since Idaho could boast that level of capable depth.

Across the board, on both sides of the ball, improvement was evident. Idaho’s new defensive coaching staff, led by first-year Defensive Coordinator Mike Breske, showed improvement throughout the season. It wasn’t perfect, and the rebuild is only in year two, but movement in the right direction was clear, including in the defensive backfield where Idaho had struggled mightily for a couple years.

So why are we talking about both sides of the ball in a spotlight story?

Because Idaho’s coaching staff is also talking both sides of the ball with speedster Lloyd Hightower (no relation to Callen, other than the two will likely play the same position this fall), a versatile athlete out of Chaparral High located between LA and San Diego. He sports a blistering 4.35 hand-timed 40 (a Chaparral record), his 315-pound bench set a new high-water mark for his weight, and he has been recognized by his League and the Area as a standout on both sides of the ball. Turns out the Idaho coaching staff feels the same way.

“I was talking to the Coach Petrino,” Hightower told this week about his official visit to the Moscow campus last week, “and he loved my film on offense, so I think that’s where I’m headed.”

Clearly his productivity caught the eyes of more than just the defensive staff at UI. “Coach Williams the DB coach isn’t too happy about that,” Hightower said as we both laugh a bit. “But coach Petrino really loved what I can do with the ball in my hand. They had me go to both offensive and defensive meetings during my visit and I was the only recruit to do that.”

Quite the honor, knowing he’s likely going to get a look on offense and defense before he even gets to campus. So which wide receiver position? “Slot,” Hightower said. “I’m pretty good at playing the slot, especially when safeties go into man, that’s when I have fun, when it’s man coverage. In high school, every time they put the outside ‘backer man on me we had an actual call that was an automatic go route to me, and they would throw the go route and normally I would score.”

So which Vandal players introduced him to the program? “D.J. Hampton and Kendrick Trotter, “Hampton said. “D.J. Hampton was my host, but they are like brothers so it was pretty much they both were my hosts. They treated me like family.”

AS HAS BEEN THE CASE WITH SO MANY RECRUITS during the Petrino era, the feeling of family in the program is strong, as is the staff’s commitment when they find the players they really want.

“My junior year I had a lot of colleges come to the school,” Hightower explained when asked about the recruiting process. “What they didn’t like was my height. That was a big concern to them, and that really made me upset. All through the off-season I worked. Senior year comes and in the first game I had three touchdowns but one got called back. The second game I played pretty good too, but I was really sick and I was hurting.

“After the Santiago game [the 5th game of the season] Idaho offered. I had over 330 all-purpose yards; a kick return for a touchdown that went for 98 yards, a catch for a touchdown that went for about 70 yards, and another catch for 20 yards. They offered me after that game.

“I told myself after my junior year, the first school that offers I’m going to commit there because I’m frustrated, and if they take a chance on me then I highly respect that and I’m going to go to that school. Idaho offered, and then a week after the season I visited their school and I liked it and I committed while I was there.”

Accomplished on both sides of the ball, Hightower was honored for a stellar senior season as a First Team All-Southwestern League selection as a utility player (quite the honor, considering only one player is named to this position, unlike several other positions, such as receiver, where four players are recognized), and he was also named to the All-Inland Area Second Team as an all-purpose athlete. Quite the recognition, considering the schools located in that area. “My area includes Centennial,” Hightower said, “which is the No.1 ranked team in the country.” To top it off, he was also invited to play in the 2016 Inland Empire All-Star Classic game on the Riverside County roster.

As would be expected for an athlete like Hightower, schools kept calling. “Right after I committed a lot of schools hit me up,” Hightower explained. “San Jose State, Fresno State, Idaho State, Colorado State, and Hawaii. San Diego State has really been on me. They all wanted me to of course decommit, but no schools have reached out to me like Idaho did when they first wanted me. That is a big factor. They [Idaho] came to my school and everything, and I really liked that."

Hightower remains "100% committed" to Coach Petrino and the Idaho program.

Clearly the Idaho staff wanted Hightower to be an integral part of their program, and made sure that message was delivered to him early and often. Now, it looks like he has the potential to make an impact on the program in the future on both sides of the ball.

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