MOSCOW — Smallmouth bass fear Lloyd Hightower much in the same way Big Sky quarterbacks do.
They’d prefer to stay away.
The senior Idaho cornerback can be seen spending some off days at any one of countless bodies of water in the region — from the Snake River, to the Clearwater, Moose Creek, Dworshak, Spring Valley etc.
“If you can’t find me anywhere, and can’t get ahold of me, I’m probably out of service, fishing at some spot I probably shouldn’t be,” said Hightower, who purchased his Idaho and Washington licenses within weeks of his arriving at Moscow in 2016.
What he means by that — he’s almost stranded himself a time or two while down dirt roads in the middle of local wilderness, with a gas tank teetering on empty.
But in one positive instance, “way past Asotin,” Hightower found a nice spot on a back trail, then lured “20 in 30 minutes — smallmouth bass.” Of course, he tossed them back; “I just like to catch ’em,” he said.
It was his “gold mine,” perhaps his best memory in his second-favorite sport.
It was kind of like the mother lode he struck when he scored two defensive touchdowns Oct. 19 against Idaho State, one a pick-6, the other a scooped fumble returned 49 yards.
“That’s a career day. Man, that’s something he’ll remember forever and something I will too,” UI defensive coordinator Mike Breske said.
For Hightower, UI’s clear-cut leader of the secondary who hails from Temecula, Calif., those favorable outcomes stemmed from doggedness, refusing complacence.
As a child, Hightower traveled with his father, Lloyd Sr., to a fishing tournament at Lake Powell.
Everyone around him was angling trout like pros. Hightower’s hook stayed bare.
“Failing at that made me wanna succeed,” he said. “Everywhere I (fish), that’s always in the back of my head.”
As for football, the former speedster prep receiver remembers when he was a junior at Chaparral High School, and wasn’t recognized as an all-leaguer after the year.
“Every newspaper that published all-conference stuff, I put it on my wall and wrote ‘No Lloyd Hightower,’” he said. “My senior year, when I got first team ... I put them right next to the other ones.”
Hightower finished last season with 13 pass break-ups, No. 8 in the Football Championship Subdivision, but didn’t get the honors to go with it.
“I didn’t feel like I was cheated or snubbed or anything,” Hightower said. “But I think honorable mention was one vote, and I was like, ‘I couldn’t get one?’”
This year, he’s clearly better, to the point where opposing quarterbacks have elected not to test him. Because he was under-the-radar coming into last season, he said he saw a profusion of targets.
In 2019? Foes are starting to err on the side of caution; tossing to the spacious side of the field — where Hightower always lines up — hasn't yielded a whole lot of production.
Cal Poly’s Jalen Hamler felt that pain on a sideline throw on Nov. 2, when Hightower flashed his receiving expertise with a tip-toe snag — his second pick and fifth turnover he’s had a hand in this year.
"I'm just trying to make the most of the targets I get," he said.
Of his wideout-esque grab, he said it was "the stuff that makes me miss (being a receiver)."
"I'm like, 'I can still do this.'"
Hightower could be Idaho’s most athletic player. Standing at a bulky 5-foot-11, 190 pounds, UI coach Paul Petrino called him “the strongest kid on our team, pound-for-pound.” He’s also one of the Vandal defense’s smartest, a hard-working role model for a young UI unit.
He reads and reacts rapidly to routes, and picks up tendencies through an unwavering dedication to extra film sessions. He’s naturally gifted with quick-rotating hips and impeccable coordination, and he’s made obvious strides from year to year, beginning as a special-teams player with a knack for punt-blocking/returning, leading into his place as one of the Big Sky’s top corners.
“He’s primarily been a field corner for us, to the wide side of the field because of his speed,” Breske said. “Recruiting-wise, he’s what you’re looking for. Generally speaking, the best athletes are on offense.”
Hightower’s breakthrough in high school came during his senior year against Santiago of Corona, Calif. He hadn’t been offered a scholarship yet, but an opposing coach was close with former UI cornerbacks coach Aric Williams, and told him of Hightower’s outing that night, during which he fared as well as, if not better than, several other Division I talents beside him.
“The coach came up to me and asked if I had any offers, and I was like, ‘Uhh, no, should I?’” Hightower said with a laugh.
A week later, Williams and Hightower were in contact. Idaho offered him first, and he kept a promise he’d made to his family — his initial offer would be his school of choice.
“(My parents) always tried to figure out ways to help me succeed,” he said. “If my mom (Yvette) and dad could co-coach a college team, they’d do it.”
When he came to UI, Hightower repped at receiver and corner. Not long after fall camp began, he started seeking out extra reps on defense because “I felt less comfortable there.
“If I was gonna play both, I wanted to be comfortable,” he said. Hightower was an all-state receiver as a prep star, but played corner sparingly. If an opponent boasted an unseemly swift pass-catcher, for example, he'd be Hightower's responsibility.
Said Petrino, chuckling: “Sometimes I kick myself at night that I didn’t keep him at receiver. You just gotta love Lloyd. What a great young man. He just does everything he can to help the team."
Hightower drew inspiration as a freshman from fellow defensive back and friend Kendrick Trotter, who’d lost his starting spot as a senior because of a serious injury, but persevered anyway. That year, Trotter returned a blocked punt for a touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe, a moment Hightower points to as his most significant memory in football.
It helped him establish his own precedent. He's patient and persistent, like an angler should be.
“It was seeing hard work, being a good person, being positive, seeing that pay off,” Hightower said.
“I didn’t wanna take this for granted. ... I can say that I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done.”
Although he’s unsure of his route when he graduates in May, Hightower’s diligence has paid dividends throughout a prosperous individual Vandal career.
He’s realistic in the fact Saturday’s game at Northern Arizona might be his final time suiting up in a UI uniform, so he’s got a few potential jobs lined up.
But whatever happens, he knows there’s still bass to be caught.
“Anywhere there’s a body of water, I’m probably gonna fish it,” he said.
Clark may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @ClarkTrib or by phone at (208) 848-2260.