Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower Press Conference
Special Teams Coordinator Richard Hightower
Press Conference – January 26, 2022
San Francisco 49ers
The other night, obviously your unit was integral to the win. What kind of confidence does that give you and how satisfying was that after for a few weeks of it being a little bit tougher on you guys?
“Well, anytime you have a chance to play for the NFC Championship, it’s exciting. Obviously proud of the guys and what they did in that game. Coming out basically start with [DB] Jimmie Ward blocking that field goal before the half. That was outstanding effort by him, as well as [DL] Jordan Willis and [CB] Dontae Johnson. [WR] Deebo [Samuel] had some kickoff returns in there that helped us along with [RB JaMycal] Hasty. And I think the guys really feel good about that. I mean, Jordan Willis made maybe one of the biggest plays of his career. And I know a lot of the guys are saying it’s one of the biggest plays in 49er playoff history. So I really am proud for him. I am excited for him. I’m excited that [S Talanoa Hufanga] Huff had a chance to scoop and score it there and having great awareness and then [K] Robbie [Gould] and [LS Taybor Pepper] Pep and [P] Mitch [Wishnowsky] being in there with great operation, along with the protection to kick that game-winning field goal. So the guys did a nice job swinging momentum. They did a good job there. They are fired up about it and they should be and we’re looking forward to playing in the NFC Championship and be excited. So it is just a testament to their resilience. It’s a testament to things that they’ve been through. I tell them all the time, everything may not go the way you want it, but you’ve got to keep pushing and keep fighting. And those are the type of guys that [general manager] John [Lynch] and [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] have here. I think it speaks to the character of the men that we have in our locker room. And we just don’t want our season to end. So I hope that answers your question.”
Two things. Hindsight, obviously you of course want Talanoa Hufanga to score the touchdown, but is the first rule to taught just to cover the ball? And then also a lot of players spoke about you giving you props after the game. How does that make you feel about your unit standing up and kind of giving you sport?
“Well, I think that it depends on the situation to answer your first question with Huff. Where the ball is. If it’s blocked behind the line of scrimmage, if it’s blocked beyond the line of scrimmage, you want to get away from it. Because if you touch it, then it becomes a live ball. Behind the line of scrimmage you always wanna scoop and score it. And then it just depends on the situation. How many guys are around you? If it’s in a crowded area, you definitely want to jump on it, if there are Packers around. But he was in a good situation there where he could scoop and score it. And he has great awareness and he’s a really great kid and he’s just, I’m just happy for that guy because he worked his tail off for that moment and he deserves it.”
Just a lot of your players spoke up, giving you props after the game and how you had a great game plan. What does that say about your unit and how they support you?
“Well, I mean, it’s really not about me. I mean, I appreciate that. It’s really about the team and how we can help the team. And I have faith in the guys and we have faith in each other and I have confidence in them to be put in those situations and to make the plays when it’s time to make those plays. But for me, I mean, it’s not really about me. I mean, to me, I’ve always been a man of faith and my grandma always told me he may not come when you want him to, but he’ll always come on time. So that’s, it’s not about me, not about me at all. It’s about the guys in the locker room and I give all the glory to God.”
After the game, Jimmie Ward recognized Dontae Johnson and Jordan Willis for his field goal block. He also said that was something that you picked up on and pointed out to him the week before the game. What is it that you saw that you could exploit on that play?
“Yeah, I mean, like we do every week, it’s really nothing that we’ve done differently than what we do every week. We always look at our opponent and see where we could have an advantage on them. And we thought on that particular play that we would have a good chance of getting pressure. And Jordan did a phenomenal job. He’s six-four, he has long arms. He went in there and pushed the guy back and got his hands up and made one of the greatest plays of his career. And I’m just hoping that we can do something special this week to help the team. We’re just excited about playing in the NFC Championship.”
As great as you guys did on Saturday night, you’ve got to do it all over again on Sunday. How do you do it? What challenges to the Rams pose to your units?
“When I look at the Rams, they’re a very, very good unit. We’ve played them twice, obviously. They have a really good returner and [Los Angeles Rams WR Brandon] Powell, he’s outstanding. He’s averaging over 15 yards a return right now. They’re doing a good job of blocking for him on punt return. [Los Angeles Rams P] Johnny Hekker is a phenomenal punter. He does a really good job of limiting returns. So he’s a challenge. He’s been good for years. [Los Angeles Rams K] Matt Gay their kicker was the Pro Bowl representative this year. He’s outstanding. And he does a great job on kickoffs. He does a great job on field goals. He does a great job limiting returns and making it tough for you. So we just have to do what we did last week and do what we do every week and it’s play technique and fundamentals and go out there and give our best effort and just be resilient and fight to the end. That’s what this team is. That’s what we all are, are fighters. So we’ll just fight to the end and hopefully the ball bounces our way.”
Just wondering if the blocked punt was a result of a technique or a weakness or something you scouted during the week or if it was sort of a phenomenal effort by Willis? Just could you take us through the block punt?
“Yeah, I think it’s all of the above. I mean, I think our coaches did a good job of looking at what they struggled with and what we thought would be our strength against what they do. And I think the players did a good job of showing disguises on a lot of different other returns. And we used it when we needed it and Jordan executed the technique perfectly, just like he’s supposed to do. And he got his long arms up there and he blocked the kick and the rest is history, you know, Huff scooped it, and I’m just happy for those guys. I’m happy that it happened for them because they work so darn hard. And sometimes the results don’t always show, but they never change. They come to work every day. I’ve got so much respect for those men in the locker room. They come to work every day, they hold their head high, they try to bust their tail and they to make sure they give us the same effort every week. So I’m just happy for them.”
You just used the phrase we used it when we needed it. I assume that’s similar to what you do when you put Deebo Samuel at kickoff return. What is the process for kind of figuring out when you want to deploy him in that role?
“Yeah. I have to tip my hat to coach Shanahan on that one. Coach Shanahan has a great feel for that stuff. And we go through it and talk through it together on the sideline and throughout the week. And he lets us know when, ‘Hey, you can use Deebo.’ And Deebo is a team player. That dude loves football. And he told me before the game, he was like, ‘I got you this game.’ And he really means it. I mean, he really means it. I still remember when he was in college and we went to the Senior Bowl and he would ride with me. A little quick story. He would ride with me to practice, to do the return. He’d come with the specialist to do the return period, because it started before practice and he would go out there, and he obviously was a great kick returner, but he had never caught punts on a consistent basis. And it just showed me he wanted to go out there and try to catch punts. I wanted to try to do anything coach I’ll do anything. And most guys won’t do that, they don’t want to embarrass themselves. But he’s a tough son of a gun. And you obviously saw it on that play.”
Just about Jordan Willis, DL Nick Bosa after the game mentioned it, he’s a quieter guy and takes a little bit longer to get to know. And I know when he said a few words in the locker room after the game the team went totally bananas. Can you, I don’t know, just explain a little bit about his personality and maybe what kind of guy he is?
“Yeah. Jordan Willis is a wonderful person. He’s a quiet person and I think Nick’s 100-percent right on that. Nick Bosa has a great feel for our team and great feel for personalities. I think that’s one of his other strengths along with obviously his past rush. Jordan is really, really quiet. But Jordan’s really cerebral. He’ll send me a lot of notes on different things he sees on tape or he’ll ask very, very detailed questions. And that’s why the locker room went crazy for him because he’s quiet and he never says much, but they respect the way he works and they respect what he is and what he represents. And I do too. And I’m glad he is on his football team.”
Heard you quote your grandmother earlier. Just wanted to ask you maybe what lessons, what memories you still carry with you from your time growing up in Aldine? I know it’s still a special place for you.
“Yeah. I mean, I appreciate the question and I appreciate the question, especially from Houston. But it was a great time for me growing up there. Just learned so many lessons and you’re just fortunate to be around people like my grandmother who instilled a lot of faith in me and just taught me to keep pushing. And I had a lot of coaches in that Aldine district. They always talked about playing snap through whistle and putting some on tape you can be proud of. So that’s all I try to do is emulate those guys. And hopefully I make my coaches proud and this football team makes our coaches proud and the people from Houston proud because I know we’ve got a lot of 49er fans down there.”