After transferring to Highland following his junior season, Kori Lopati (S, 6'0, 195, Sr) experienced more than just a change in surroundings. Lopati entered into a program with a strong football tradition, an unfamiliar concept to him as a junior at Granger.
He learned how deep those traditions went when he was first told about a silver, black and white necklace the players receive - an emblem representing pride and strength, among other things.
And Lopati also quickly learned the senior leaders were determined to do whatever it took to keep the program among the elite of Class 4-A.
"There's so much tradition over here," Lopati said. "A lot of colleges coming down. A lot of good people. I've made a lot of good friends over here, so I think it was great decision to come."
Lopati has done more than his share to add to that winning tradition this season, making his mark on offense, defense and special teams for Highland. He has emerged as a key part of the Rams' backfield, with 215 yards and five touchdowns on 35 carries.
He initially felt uncertain of his place after leaving the Lancers.
Lopati had no idea how his new teammates would respond to a player who had not moved up through the sophomore and junior varsity ranks with them.
So he worked hard throughout the summer, trying to earn playing time and respect from the other players in one broad stroke. Highland coach Brody Benson said Lopati's humble attitude and strong work ethic is what elevated him into becoming a regular contributor at multiple positions.
"He came and just wanted a chance to play," Benson said. "So he didn't expect anything. He came in here and he worked his butt off and he earned his spot on both sides of the ball."
Lopati's athleticism and big-play ability helped him keep his spot on the field.
He showed just how dangerous he could be in the season opener against Mountain Crest. In the Rams' eventual rout, Lopati returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. Seeing new teammates jumping for joy on the sidelines, for the first time he felt he had become part of Highland football.
"It was real exciting," Lopati said. " That's probably one of the biggest challenges I had in my life was that game right there - to show up and play."
A major reason Lopati left Granger was to be with his father, who was hired as a teacher at Highland and as an assistant coach on Benson's staff. Lopati loves being coached by his father because they get to spend more time together. He literally sees him everywhere he goes - at home, at school and at practice.
"That's probably the best thing I've wanted," Lopati said. "I'm actually seeing him every day of my senior year. That's what I ask for. I couldn't ask for anything more."
As his senior season winds down, Lopati would like to continue playing football in college. He is preparing game film to send to Penn State, a school which appeals to him - like Highland - because it is rich in tradition.
Lopati will likely walk on if the Nittany Lions accept him.
Conventional wisdom says a kid from Utah is a longshot to make it with a Big Ten school.
But Lopati has earned plenty believers in his ability to make it - including Benson.
"He's a determined kid and I think he has the athletic ability to really go a lot of places and play in a lot of different programs," Benson said.

Transfer of Power
* Kori Lopati, who came to Highland from Granger, has emerged as a key part of the Rams' backfield, with 215 yards and five touchdowns on 35 carries.
* Lopati wants to play as a walk-on at Penn State, if he's wanted there.