G. Michael Graham Photo. The Highlands Bluebirds stretch during a recent practice. The six-time state champions averaged 52.1 points per game last year and are hoping to keep lighting up scoreboards this year.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
There is a prevailing question about the Highlands Bluebirds offense before every game.
How many touchdowns are they going to score today?
In recent years, the Bluebirds have been lighting up scoreboards like crazy. They scored 781 points last year for an average of just more than 52 points a game to go with 111 touchdowns on their way to a state-record sixth consecutive state championship.
The reason for that offensive efficiency is balance. Opponents never know if they’ll pass the ball like crazy, run it like crazy or throw in a balanced attack. Highlands ran for 4,019 yards and passed for another 3,405 for a grand total of 7,424 for an average of about 495 a contest. The Bluebirds put up more than 600 yards of total offense three times last year in its Shotgun Spread offense. Two of those games came against state semifinalists Scott County and Lexington Catholic.
“It is nice to be able to do a variety of things offensively,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “The more diverse you are, the more things you can do really well and the tougher it is to defend. If you’re a defensive coordinator, you can say, ‘They like to do this.’ You can gear to stop it. If they do this, they do this and they do this, then it’s a lot harder.”
Highlands showed its offensive efficiency in the Red Zone (inside the opposing 20-yard-line). The Bluebirds scored on 75-of-83 trips there for 90 percent including 71 touchdowns for 86 percent.
Quarterbacks like Donovan McCoy and Patrick Towles have done an excellent job guiding the offense in recent years. Senior Drew Houliston will take on that role this year. He completed 33-of-58 passes for 610 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions backing up McCoy last year. Junior backup Beau Hoge also saw some time at quarterback last year and could make an impact at wide receiver.
“I’m just a different kind of quarterback than Pat (Towles) and Donovan (McCoy) were,” Houliston said. “Pat had a great arms and Donovan was really good at running. I feel like I can put both those together. I’m not trying to be like them. I’m just trying to lead like they did. They both led the (previous) teams to state championship.”
McCoy was the leading rusher and passer last year completing 169-of-267 passes for 2,769 yards, 32 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and rushing for 1144 yards on 163 carries and 22 touhdowns. Highlands also graduated speedster Colin Seidl, Ryan Donovan as well as leading receiver Luke Turner (42 catches for 843 yards and eight touchdowns) and receiver Jac Collinsworth. But Houliston will have plenty of help around him.
Three of the top six rushers from last year return led by seniors Zach Harris and Jaylen Hayes. Harris topped the 1,000-yard pleateau with 1,001 yards rushing on 144 carries and 20 touchdowns and Hayes ran for 602 yards on 58 carries and 10 touchdowns. Hayes bulldozed through three defenders on his way to the end zone in Highlands’ first-round win over Boyd County last year. Juniors Josh Watson and James Grau will back them up.
Six of the top seven pass-catchers return from last year. Senior wide receiver Luke Brockett leads the way after catching 23 passes for 391 yards and four touchdown last year. Senior tight end Nick True along with wide receivers Brandon Hergott, Ryan Greene and junior Justin Weyer all return along with Hayes. True has verbally committed to Western Kentucky University.
“In the past couple of years, Drew (Houliston) has always been able to throw it to us,” Hergott said. “In terms of chemistry, there are no problems with the receivers and quarterbacks. It’s coming along nice.”
But things for the Highlands offense start in the trenches. Richie Whitford, Jason Thome, Jack Grimm and Mitch Dee graduated. But seniors Matt Farney, Sam Little, Kyle Thurston, Scott Turner, Bryan Saunders, Tyler Schweitzer and Kendall Kramer return to protect the skill position players.
Turner said the offseason conditioning program really helps the offensive lineman. Near the goal line, Highlands likes to line offensive linemen in the full-house backfield to create room for the skill position players to score.
“During practice, you get so out of breathe that when you get into a game, it’s just like second nature,” Turner said. “You don’t think about how tired you are because you’re more tired in practices.”
The high-octane Highlands offense returns to action Aug. 24 at 3:30 p.m. on ESPNU against the University Christian Fighting Christians of Jacksonville (Fla.). University Christian is the defending Class 2A Florida champion. That’s the second-smallest of eight classes in the Sunshine State.