G. Michael Graham Photo. The recent success of the Highlands football team as displayed on the new press box ranks among the reasons teams in Northern Kentucky are not scheduling the Bluebirds.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Co-Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Dale Mueller would be the first tell you the Highlands Bluebirds prefer to face local teams from Northern Kentucky.
But in recent years, that has been difficult. Only three teams from Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties show up on the 2013 schedule in Campbell County, Covington Catholic and Covington Holmes. The only non-district opponent of the three is Campbell County.
“Many of those teams have not wanted to schedule us for their own personal reasons,” Mueller said. “Sometimes we’ve just been on a different competitive level. Teams don’t want to play a team they’re not at the same competitive level with.”
That different level has been 87-3 in the last six seasons with six consecutive state championships. They’ve outscored playoff opponents by 1,001 points during the 30-game postseason winning streak.
Last year consisted of a similar story as the Bluebirds battled just three schools from the same three counties in CovCath, Holmes and Ryle. Ryle even played Highlands twice in 2010 and 2009.
One perception out there is Boyle County and Ryle originally had Highlands on the schedule for this year before dropping the Bluebirds. Mueller said the Rebels and Raiders talked about playing Highlands again this year. In fact, Ryle almost played Highlands twice again this year. But Boyle County and Ryle decided to look elsewhere when making the final schedule.
“We never at any point had Highlands on our schedule,” said Chris Lemonds, Boyle County Director of Athletics. “I think Coach Mueller and (Boyle County Head) Coach (Larry) French may have briefly talked about the possibility. However, we decided our best interest would be to stay local and play in a bowl game at Lincoln County. Coach French told me he never agreed to play.”
Another mainstay on the schedule was Dixie Heights. Highlands faced the Colonels on a yearly basis for a while until last year. That marked the first year Highlands graduate Tom Spritzky was not the head coach of the Colonels in a long time.
“Our schedules did not work out to reschedule for 2012 and 2013,” said Dave Brossart, Dixie Heights head coach. “We actually picked up (Lexington) Tates Creek and (Cincinnati) Turpin this year so we are not trying to avoid any competition over here at Dixie. Outside our 6A schedule, we feel all six games are quality opponents who can compete for a state championship.”
Highlands faced four opponents from the northern three Kentucky counties in 2011 after facing seven in 2010. The Bluebirds have scheduled three teams from beyond Louisville as a result and play three straight Saturdays. Highlands ventures to John Hardin, Paducah Tilghman and Covington Catholic in consecutive weeks.
Bluebird rival Covington Catholic faced seven opponents from Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties last year and took on the same number in 2011. The Colonels face the same amount of teams from the same counties this year. Albeit, the Colonels also venture to western Kentucky to battle Henderson County six days after playing host to defending Ohio Division I champion Cincinnati Moeller.
“Their issue is twofold – the recent success they've worked hard for and enjoyed along with margins of victory and misconceptions of score ‘run-ups,” said Dave Wirth, Covington Catholic head coach. “We have been accused of the same from time to time and realize the difficulties involved with games that end up very lopsided and that the intent isn’t always to ‘run-up’ the score. Many coaches don’t want to play them because they either cannot compete with them and/or are afraid of taking a big whipping. It’s pretty simple actually. Most coaches when given the opportunity schedule games they can win.”
New Boone County Head Coach Jeff Griffith came from a similar situation at Bowling Green. Griffith spent the last 11 years as an assistant and helped the Purples to the last two Class 5A state championships.
“We faced the same issues with scheduling of ‘local teams,” Griffith said. “BG has to travel to Chattanooga, TN and Murphreesboro, TN for games as well as to Lexington (this year).”
The meeting between the Camels and Bluebirds will be the first between the two schools since 2004. Campbell County, led by former Highlands running back Stephen Lickert, is coming off its first two district championships in 31 years.
“It will help us get better to win our district (Class 6A, District 6). We have to prepare our team to win the last five weeks of the season going into the playoffs and being at our best at that point,” Lickert said. “When I schedule our first five games of the year, you want to play against teams you’ll be competitive with. But you also want to play against teams that are going to challenge you and show you what your weaknesses are so you can fix your weaknesses. If you beat up on some team you know you’re better than, you’re not getting better.”
One team fans would love to see on the Highlands schedule is Newport Central Catholic. The schools are about two miles apart but have not faced each other since 1998. New Thoroughbred head coach Dan Wagner said he’s not opposed to the idea.
“The opportunity was there a few years ago, but Highlands wanted to go a different route,” Wagner said. “Maybe it will work out in the future.”
Newport Central Catholic has often scheduled games against bigger schools to prepare for the postseason. It paid off this past year when the Thoroughbreds won the 2A title. They again take on Campbell County, Dixie Heights and Simon Kenton this year after going 1-2 against those district rivals last year.
“We just make out a schedule that we believe is the best for our team,” said Rob Detzel, NewCath Director of Athletics. “We believe the formula is working due to the recent success our team has enjoyed.”
Highlands opens the season against a team not from Kentucky, Ohio or Indiana for the first time ever on Aug. 24. The defending Florida Class 2A state (smallest of eight classes) champion University Christian of Jacksonville comes to town for a 3:30 p.m. in game televised on ESPNU.