A Number’s Game

Lack Of Players Could Be Rams’ Biggest Obstacle


Peach Schilling

Jaxsen Miner (54) blocks from his center position during the Black and White scrimmage.

Peach Schilling, Associate Editor

Last year Highland faced Timpview in the first round of playoffs. Highland entered as the higher seed, but after the first possession in the game, the major difference between the two teams became very obvious. When the Rams switched from offense to defense, only a few players left the field because many starters on the team played both ways. As for Timpview, 11 new players came on. Highland’s defensive players didn’t have the luxury of resting and couldn’t keep up with their opponent physically.
Earlier in the season, Team 63 was able to defeat Lone Peak, the eventual 6A Utah state champions. This showed how strong, when healthy, Highland could be. Injuries were piling up and players began to become more fatigued as the season went on. Timpview took advantage of this and Highland left that game knowing something needed to change.
The Rams this year have fewer players than ever before in Brody Benson’s 15 years of coaching. A sense of split personality must take over the minds of linemen when playing “both sides” of the game. As Highland’s players and coaches kick off the season, they know how hard each and every one of them is going to have to work to see the outcomes they expect.
Schools like Highland, that have a smaller population, will have a hard time competing consistently against schools with a larger student body. And no sport requires the depth like football does. Without recruiting opportunities, Highland depends on students in the district to step up and play.
Senior lineman Jaxsen Miner is ready to work and is filled with confidence and lots of energy.
“We have to be prepared as individual athletes and players to go both-ways on offense and on defense, if called upon,” Miner said. “That means we have to be in excellent shape both physically and mentally.”
Football programs across the nation are dwindling. Fewer kids are playing the sport at a young age, which means there are fewer kids to play at the high school and professional levels.
For nearly a decade, the number of boys playing high school tackle football has been steadily declining. Perhaps the most significant reason that less children are getting involved in tackle football at a young age is because of the head trauma research that has been done.
In a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association, more than 200 brains of deceased football players were tested for brain trauma. They diagnosed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disorder, in 87 percent of players. Of the 111 NFL players tested, 99 percent had CTE.
Worries about head trauma aren’t the only reason teams are seeing less players on the field. The emergence of new sports and activities has pushed more boys out of football and into year-round sports such as soccer and lacrosse. As kids start to specialize in sports at a much younger age, it is believed sports played all year long will make them better athletes in general.
As Highland is starting the 2019 season, adjustments are being made because of the small number of players. Benson has made the decision this year to go into the season without a junior varsity team.
“I don’t have the numbers to do it,” Benson said. “We don’t have enough kids to go out and have a structured practice the way that we have in the past 15 years so there will be some changes.”
Despite whether the low number of players will help or harm the Rams, the team is ready to work as hard as they always have in order to fight for their wins.
“We haven’t won a region championship since 2009 so that our first goal,” Benson said. “We always want to create a positive experience for these guys both athletically, academically and socially. Thats what we’re working for every single day.”
The Rams are currently 3-0, but the unknown challenges are ahead of them as they will enter their region season next week. The true test will come on Sep. 20 at Olympus.
Every player at Highland wants time in the game and they know that they must give everything they have in order to reach their goals.
“Sports used to be played to teach discipline and teach [kids] how to work on a team with dedication and passion to play,” Benson said. “But now everybody has these end goals of going on and playing in college and it’s just not factual.”
Along with the “flip” of why kids are playing sports, Benson and other coaches see that less and less high schoolers are willing to work. Children are sitting with televisions, smartphones, tablets, gaming systems and other electronic devices more than ever and putting in effort to play serious sports is less common.
For many high school students, going home is more appealing then heading to the weight room to train for the Friday night game.
“Kids just don’t want to work,” Benson said. “They are afraid of the discipline and accountability that football brings. Plus, it’s difficult.”
Miner is not one of these kids and is ready for whatever is thrown in his face, both on the field and in the weight room.
“The people who are out on the team now are willing to put in the work to be great,” Miner said. “We pride ourselves on working harder than anyone else and it can be too much for some high school athletes.”
As center and defensive tackle, Miner is ready to go into the region season with confidence built from lots and lots of hard work.