Rookie Hightower impacting Cardinals

For anyone who knows Arizona Cardinals running back Tim Hightower, it comes as no surprise the rookie is making an impact in his first year -- he has proven to be an impact player almost immediately at every stop.

The 6-foot, 216-pound running back transferred into Episcopal High School (Alexandria, Va.) from Friendly High School (Fort Washington, Md.) for his junior season and made his presence felt, both on and off the field.

On the field, Hightower led the team in rushing with 927 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned All-Interstate Athletic Conference (I.A.C.) honors and was voted team MVP by his teammates after the season.

Off the field he quickly impressed his fellow students and was named Student Leader for his senior year by his schoolmates, a rare honor for someone only at the school for a year.

"That's unusual when you're only there a year," Episcopal coach Mark Gowin said. "Usually those kids are ones that have been there two, three or four years."

It looked as though Hightower was destined to play college at a major Division I-A college, with Penn State among the schools expressing interest in the junior.

A foot injury during the spring track season followed by a broken bone in his senior football season curtailed those dreams.

Hightower was limited to six games in his final prep season, but still had 1,083 yards and 12 touchdowns and earned All-State honors. However, college interest had dwindled.

"A lot of people looked at him," Gowin said. "But a lot came back saying 'he's just not fast enough.'"

The University of Richmond was the only school that officially offered Hightower and once again, as a freshman, he made an immediate impact.

Hightower played in all 11 of Richmond's games his freshman season, carrying the ball 58 times and making 19 catches for a total of 319 yards. He had a season-high six catches for 63 yards against league rival James Madison that season.

Those numbers were only the beginning. By the time he ended his Spiders career, Hightower had broken 18 school, game and career rushing records.

He left Richmond as its career leader in rushing (3,712), all-purpose yards (4,560) and touchdowns (39).

His senior year performance really put him over the top. Helping Richmond to an 11-3 record and to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) championship game against Appalachian State, Hightower rushed for 1,924 yards and 20 touchdowns.

But, like his senior year in high school, NFL teams showed little interest in Hightower following his career at Richmond. Heading in to the 2008 NFL Draft, he was not even invited to the combine.

Hightower was chosen to play in the Texas versus the Nation all-star game. The Oakland Raiders took Hightower's Richmond teammate Arman Shields in the fourth round of the NFL draft.

Hightower waited one more round, selected with the 14th pick in the fifth round by the Arizona Cardinals.

With Edgerrin James as the incumbent starter there did not appear to be much playing time available for Hightower, but just like at every other stop Hightower has started making an impact.

"We're not surprised here that he's been successful in the NFL," Gowin said. "He's a great kid. He's one of the finest young men. He's grounded and really has his head on straight. He's also just the hardest worker you will ever meet."

Through 11 games this season, Hightower has rushed for 320 yards and nine touchdowns in addition to making 24 catches for 173 yards.

Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPN RISE.