G. Michael Graham Photo. Highlands Co-Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Dale Mueller instructs the Bluebirds during a recent practice. Mueller and the Bluebirds are aiming for their seventh straight state championship this fall.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
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Just the sight or mention of the Highlands Bluebirds football team strikes fear into many opponents.
That is what happens when you have the mystique the Blue and White do. The great history comes in the form of an overall record of 842-225-26 good for an average of about 8.6 wins a year good for the second-most wins in school history in the country only behind 876 wins of Valdosta (Ga.). It also includes a Kentucky record 22 state championships tied with Louisville Trinity, including six in a row good for sole possession of another state record. The Bluebirds have also recorded 57 straight winning seasons dating back to a 4-5-1 mark in 1955 and have won at least three state championships in every decade since the 1960s.
But the coaching staff and returning players know that tradition alone will not win the 99th edition of the Bluebirds another championship. They have to put in their time in the offseason to continuously improve to add to the legacy among other things.
That’s what the returning players started doing in January about a month after knocking off Collins, 47-0 on Nov. 30 in the Class 4A state championship at Western Kentucky University. That concluded a 14-1 campaign good for an overall record of 87-3 during their 30-0 playoff mark.
The leadership starts at the top with Bluebird Co-Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Dale Mueller, Weinrich and the assistant coaches. Former players praise Mueller for his positive approach to the game.
“I think coaches have a big impact on the guys on the team,” Mueller said. “My coaches in my life had a big impact on me. I think all coaches try to have a good, positive impact on the lives of the guys they coach. I try to do the same.”
The Bluebirds have been beating opponents with depth. Once they’re sophomores, the coaching staff puts them on either offense or defense. That enables players to concentrate on one position as opposed to spending half the practice on offense then another half on defense. That’s also a reason so many experienced players return each year. Many see the playing field when the Bluebirds are up huge in the second half.
“Each year, our numbers have been growing by about 10-12 per season, which means more guys can play. It adds more competition in practice,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Co-Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator. “Highlands If you want to get on the field, you’d better show that you deserve it. When there are 11 guys on the field, there’s 20 more that are anxious to get out there so it’s a good problem as a coach. As a player, it can get frustrating. But they’re buying into the team-first mentality.”
Recently graduated linebacker Reid Schroeder said the upperclassmen constantly talk to the younger players about how things are done at Highlands. That also helps make sure any potential problems are dealt with quickly and efficiently.
“I think the guys on the team are a fraternity of guys that are out to help the team win,” Mueller said. “It’s a dynamic group who the team means a lot to them. So they’re going to do their role to help the team win.”
Highlands often schedules tough games to prepare for tough games. The Bluebirds open the season against University Christian of Jacksonville (Fla.) in a battle of defending state champions on ESPNU. That Aug. 24 game starts at 3:30 p.m.
That’s the first of three Saturday games to prepare for the huge game on Sept. 28 at Covington Catholic. The Bluebirds travel to John Hardin and Paducah Tilghman the previous two Saturday after home battles against Campbell County and Lexington Bryan Station.
“It’s the most difficult schedule that we’ve ever had since I’ve been at Highlands,” Mueller said. “It is just a lot of really good football teams that we really have to get ready to play. We really gear our schedule around CovCath because that’s a big game that determines whether we’re the one seed in the playoffs and that determines so much as to whether we win the state championship or not.”
After district play concludes, Highlands travels to Cincinnati Elder and plays host to Warren Central to finish the regular season. Elder handed the Bluebirds their only loss last year.
“It’s going to be hard,” said Joey Kruse, Highlands Senior linebacker. “It’s going to drive us harder because people are going to be coming to the bigger games. We want to show the nation what we’re about.”
Nine of the 10 teams on the schedule had winning seasons last year. They finished a combined 82-41 last year. It may be difficult for Highlands to add to its state-record 13 undefeated seasons. But the Bluebirds have risen to the occasion in the past on many occasions.
Highlands travels to Louisville to take on the defending 6A champion Trinity Shamrocks in the annual scrimmage on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m.