Hightower, who signed a scholarship this week to play at Maryville College, a Division III school in Maryville, Tenn., said he moved from Adairsville to Sonoraville and back and had not played football his freshman and sophomore years.
During that absence, he said, he participated in Future Farmers of America, where he was successful, placing second in the state in the meat judging competition.
Hightower, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 280-pound left guard, said his road back to the gridiron started after his return to Adairsville and he caught the eye of then new head football coach Jim Kremer.
"He would come up to me in the hallway and say 'You are going to be a player,'" Hightower said.
Hightower had been away from the sport two years, but he'd played football since he was 6 years old and still loved it. "I just didn't know if I'd be that good."
Hightower did indeed become that good after Kremer's support prompted his return to the gridiron. He initially suited up as a nose guard for the Tigers, playing behind Adairsville great Catlin Alford on the defensive line.
"It's unreal how much better he [Alford] made me," Hightower recalled.
Last summer, though, Hightower said, he went to football camp in Birmingham and was told by Steve Sparks, offensive line coach, that based on his performance, he was being moved to the other side of the line.
"Coach Sparks said I looked great at camp and I was going to be a starting guard for Adairsville," he recalled. "I was so happy."
But that emotion was tempered by the realization the position switch would bring about changes for him. "I knew I was going to have to work a lot harder."
Coach Sparks said the switch was a big step but one that benefited both the player and the Tigers.
"From the time he got there, he convinced us we had made the right decision," the offensive line coach said. "He progressed quickly and became a great offensive lineman for us."
The coach said he can only wonder how good Hightower would have been as a senior if he'd spent his entire high school career at the position.
"He has a huge wing span as a pass rusher," Sparks said.
He added Hightower also runs well, something of a rarity with offensive linemen. "He can throw a block for you 30 yards down the field on a screen play."
Hightower runs the 40-yard dash in 5.0; bench presses 285; squat lifts 415; and power cleans 255.
Sparks said he and offensive coordinator Bill Napier believe Hightower and fellow Tiger Ethan Abernathy were the two best guards in Region 7A-AA last season.
He noted Hightower had an 89.6 film grade average for the season with a 92 percent film grade against Ridgeland, and was second overall in pancakes.
Not bad for a guy who played his position just one year.
Academically, he earned a 3.30 GPA and that opened the door to his scholarship, Kremer said. "Rance took care of his business academically and that's why he's able to take advantage of this opportunity."
The head coach said Rance has outstanding character and his teammates look up to him. "Everybody loves Rance."
Hightower said while he is looking forward to playing offensive lineman at Maryville, he has some good gridiron memories at Adairsville.
He recalled his first game as a starter for the Tigers. "We were playing Ridgeland, and I was thinking it couldn't get any better than this. We ran a 3-4 inside veer and got a first down and I got a pancake block [knocked his opponent completely off his feet].
Just as good a memory, he said, was the team's Senior Night game, which was played in the old Adairsville High stadium.
"I was captain and was on the field in front of all the alumni and players who had played for Adairsville," he said. "I remember looking around and seeing my uncle, Johnny Gulledge, and he gave me a thumbs up."