By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It may be just a scrimmage.
But the Highlands Bluebirds will be taking the trip to Louisville Trinity seriously. After all, it will feature the two teams tied for the Kentucky state record of 22 state championships each for the fourth consecutive season.
Highlands is looking for its first win in the series. The Shamrocks won the previous three scrimmages, including a 63-31 verdict last year in Fort Thomas. Trinity led 51-0 at halftime. The closest Highlands came to beating Trinity was 2010 when the Shamrocks edged the Bluebirds, 49-42 in Fort Thomas. That may have some people concerned that some of the Highlands players may go down there intimidated.
“We can’t be nervous. We can’t go in there scared,” said Seth Hope, Highlands senior defensive end. “We just need to do what we do. We want to get everyone ready to play varsity football and use it to prepare for the rest of the season.”
The varsity teams played four quarters last year to simulate a game before the junior varsity and freshmen teams played on two sides of the field. The varsity teams will play for three quarters before the junior varsity and freshmen teams take over for three quarters.
“It’s a great experience playing Trinity who is one of the best teams in the country,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Co-Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator. “It really helps us for the rest of the season. Although it’s just a scrimmage, our guys get fired up for it. They have a lot of good football players and we have a lot of good football players. They just have to get the feel of going out and playing a football game.”
Trinity comes into the season ranked second in the USA Today Preseason Top 25 poll despite heavy losses to graduation. But the Shamrocks tend to reload every year. They’ve won seven of the past eight large-class state championships. The last time Trinity did not win it was 2009 when arch-rival Louisville St. Xavier beat them in the 6A title game, 34-10.
The Shamrocks have played for a state championship every year since 2000 except 2004. Dixie Heights beat Trinity, 14-10 in the second round of the 4A playoffs that year.
“In any football game, you have to do your job each time and you have to get a win in your job,” Mueller said. “You also have to do your job the best you can. If you play a good team like Trinity, you have more battles. It’s harder to win all those battles. Football is such a unique game. There are 11 guys on the field and all 11 of those guys count. They’re all involved in making the play go.”
Offensively, Trinity graduated its top passer, receiver and running back in Travis Wright, James Quick and Daylyn Dawkins. Quick took his talents to nearby University of Louisville.
But the Shamrocks do return Reggie Bonnafon. He will move from wide receiver to quarterback where the Shamrocks expect him to lead as a dual-threat. Bonnafon completed 4-of-4 passing attempts for 42 yards and three touchdowns last year and caught 27 passes for 394 yards and five touchdowns.
“As a Highlands defense, we shouldn’t have any problems (with dual-threat quarterbacks) if we do what we do,” Hope said. “As long as everyone stays in his gap, gets his assignment right and does what he needs to do, our defense is built so that we shouldn’t have problems with that.”
Bonnafon will throw to seniors Cody Swabek, Drew Chandler and sophomore Robert Jones. Donald Brooks returns as the top running back with Woody Campbell and Scott Liebert leading the Shamrock offensive line.
Hope leads the Highlands defense. The Bluebirds gave up an average of about 18 points per game last year.
The Highlands offense will face a Trinity defense hit heavily by graduation. Defensive end Jason Hatcher took his talents to the University of Kentucky. But Aaron Roseberry, David Bowling, Adam King and Connor Foos expect to contribute on the defensive line with Jake Savage, Jack Harrison looking to make an impact at linebacker and William Washle and Canon Jackson looking to make noise in the defensive backfield.
“They’re more athletic and fast than most of the teams we play,” said Jaylen Hayes, Highlands senior running back. “They’re returning a few linebackers who are fast. We’re just going to go down there and play our hardest.”
Drew Houliston will take over at quarterback this year. He will be surrounded by plenty of weapons in the Bluebirds Spead offense.
Game time is 7:30 p.m. in Louisville.
Hope verbally commits to Cornell:
Hope recently verbally committed to play college football for the Cornell Big Red of the Ivy League. That’s the alma mater of Mueller and local restaurant owner Jeff Ruby. It is located in Ithaca, N.Y. Cornell finished 4-6 overall and 2-5 in Ivy League action last year.
The Big Red just hired a new head coach in Jeff Archer. He graduated from Cornell in 2005.
“With Cornell, I was definitely thinking about my future,” Hope said. “I had a few full scholarship offers but I thought in the long-run I had a choice with what I wanted to do with my life. I thought Ivy League was the way to go. After I had the Ivy League decision made, I chose Cornell because I like the campus. It looked like a lot of cool things to do up there. It was a lot less preppy than the other Ivy League schools I saw. It will be the beginning of a new era and I’m glad to part of the new era.”
Mueller said David Cecil Memorial Stadium will be ready by the season-opener against University Christian out of Jacksonville (Fla.) on Aug. 24. That game starts at 3:30 p.m.
Fans will notice a new press box and scoreboard. Crews have worked diligently throughout the summer to prepare it for the season. The Bluebirds have six home games this year.
“I can’t say enough about our administration,” Mueller said. “They have done a phenomenal job of getting everything ready. I am so pleased the way everything has gone.”
NC scrimmages Holmes:
The Thoroughbreds scrimmage the Bulldogs on Friday at Thomas More College.
Newport Central Catholic scrimmaged Cooper last year and played Holmes in the regular season last year. The schools swapped on the NewCath schedule this year.
The Bulldogs won that contest, 12-7 on Sept. 28. But the Thoroughbreds did not lose game posting nine straight wins on the way to their fifth state championship.
NewCath will be breaking in many new faces fulltime this year after 15 seniors graduated from that team. The vaunted spread offense and 4-4 defenses will return with some tweaks.
“We have a lot of (positions) to replace,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “It’s nice because they’re familiar with us and know what we want to do.”
The NewCath defense faces Holmes running back Jonathon Scruggs. He was a key piece to the Bulldogs’ Diamond formation offense last year and new Holmes head Coach Ben Nevels will probably build the offense around him.
“It will be good to face a running back the quality of Scruggs,” Wagner said. “It is a challenge and it will give a good idea of how to handle a back of his caliber.”
Game time is 7 p.m.