Kansas Wesleyan had blocked an Arkansas Baptist punt, Reese Nebel scooping up the ball and returning it the 1-yard line.
The Coyotes scored on the next play but the guy carrying the ball across the goal line wasn’t a familiar number or name. Jarren Hightower, No. 53, held the ball high above his team as his teammates swarmed around him in the end zone.
A devastating blocker from his left guard position where he has been a staple in the offensive line the last three season, Hightower was finally basking in the glory and adulation reserved for running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers.
“We don’t get the ball obviously but I got blessed last week,” Hightower said, a wide smile crossing his face.
Not surprisingly, the 290-pound Hightower scored standing up – the Arkansas Baptist defense helpless in its attempts to get him on the ground.
Hightower is one of four seniors in the offensive line and last Saturday’s game was his last at JRI Stadium and the Graves Family Sports Complex. The touchdown was a well-deserved honor for a man who has part of the KWU program for five years and helped the Coyotes win three Kansas Conference championships.
Hightower, though, isn’t thinking about the approaching end of his career. There are more important matters to ponder such as a monstrous conference game against No. 10 Southwestern (8-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday in Winfield in the regular season finale.
The No. 25 Coyotes (8-2) must win to keep their NAIA postseason hopes alive.
“We know we’re a good team and pressure-wise it’s just another game,” Hightower said. “Another game we’ve got to get ready for and do whatever we can to prepare for them and beat them.
“I’m just enjoying the last moments I’ve got the team; with the guys I’ve made memories with. The three (championship) rings, All-American, all the accomplishments and stuff like that, I haven’t really taken the time to sit down and soak it all in. Our guys have been so focused on just this year and making the most out of it.”
Hightower earned First Team All-America honors last fall but is quick to credit his classmates – Jake Balderrama, Nolan Harris and Trace Ott.
“Trace, Nolan, Jake and I became close as a unit last year,” he said. “Thanks to (offensive line) coach (Mike) Hall because he puts us in the mindset of being perfect every week. We all work hard; we know what it takes to win the game. I trust them, they trust me and it makes life so much easier. I thank them for all my success.”
Playing in the offensive line isn’t as easy as some might think. There’s more to it than just pushing defenders out of harm’s way but that’s certainly part of it.
“Tough, you have to be physical,” Hightower said. “You’ve got know what you’re doing too because if you don’t you can mess up a play, you could turn the ball over, anything can happen. It’s about knowing what you’re doing, knowing your responsibilities and willing to do whatever it takes to win the game.”
Asked for his preference Hightower said he favors run blocking. KWU averages 234.4 yards rushing and 41.8 points behind its big, veteran line.
“I’ll do either one as long as we score,” he said. “People on the team would probably say I’m more of a run block guy. I like it when we run the ball and we’ve run it on every team we’ve played. You can be more aggressive run blocking.
“Honestly, I just like blocking. It doesn’t matter to me as long as I can protect the quarterback or running back so we can get an end zone. I’m willing to do whatever.”
Wesleyan heads to Winfield on a four-game winning streak that started after a difficult 18-14 loss to Avila on October 8 at JRI Stadium.
“Me and some people just got tired of losing,” Hightower said. “For me personally I’m not a big fan of losing. I haven’t lost that much since I’ve been here so it’s just extra motivation. There’s a chip on our shoulders just to keep going and hopefully make this push and get into the playoffs.
“We’re all very excited in the locker room, trust me. We’re ready for this game.”