By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Now that the big decision has been made, they are back hard at work preparing for the 100th season in school history.
The returning Highlands Bluebirds football players hit the weight room for winter conditioning immediately after the school promoted Brian Weinrich to Head Coach filling in for the retired longtime Head Coach Dale Mueller. Weinrich had been on staff the previous 19 seasons including Defensive Coordinator since 2002.
The goal in winter conditioning is to continue laying bricks in the solid foundation. The players are striving to become quicker and stronger during the winter months.
Weinrich said the returning players seemed hungry to get back after it following the 13-2 fall campaign. The Bluebirds entered the offseason as defending Class 4A state runner-up after not winning a state championship for the first time since 2006 following a last-minute 37-34 loss to the Collins Titans in the title game.
“It’s really amazing how hard they work,” Weinrich said. “We threw a couple new things at them (on Jan. 8) and they responded. The young guys are catching on real quick what it means to work real hard and not waste any reps.”
The Bluebirds lost 31 players from that squad. Aside from their absence in addition to players participating in other sports, the only noticeable difference Friday was Mueller not being there. The Bluebirds went 250-36 in 20 years under Mueller with 17 district championships, 11 state titles and three runner-up finishes.
The Bluebirds do winter conditioning Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after school from 3-6 p.m. The start was delayed two days because of the weather.
“That surprises a lot of people because a lot of teams usually don’t go on Fridays,” said Rocco Pangallo, rising Highlands senior linebacker. “Our coaches love changing it up. They don’t like routines. They don’t like for us to know what we’re going to do each day. They can pull anything out and we go do it. We’re going to bump it up a notch every year.”
Weinrich often led conditioning in the past when Mueller could not be there. The Bluebirds include the current eighth graders in the winter programs.
“We want to challenge them physically and mentally. We want to keep it exciting,” Weinrich said. “They’re in school trying to figure out what we’re going to do that day. We don’t want them to get good at running certain drills. We want to develop them athletically. We’ve felt the best way to do that over the years is continuously stimulating their minds and bodies at the same time.”
Many of the players are bouncing back from injuries. One is rising senior running back Josh Watson. He missed all of last year because of a torn Anterior Cruciated Ligament after contributing some as a sophomore.
“It’s a lot of motivation right there,” Watson said. “Being out all of last year just killed me. That pushes me to do well this year and not let anyone stop me. We’re just pushing ourselves to the max.”
Highlands had about 100 players out last year so they absorbed some of the injuries. But the Bluebirds struggled against balanced offenses defensively, especially in second halves, because of the injuries. Many players did not play at 100 percent.
“This is probably any coach in the country,” Weinrich said. “Anytime a guy gets hurt, you’re always questioning, doubting or looking back. You talk to your trainers and look at things. We train about as well as we can in terms of preparing them physically. We try to take care of their bodies year-round. If there was a way to prevent injuries, I’d write a book and retire tomorrow because everyone would buy it.”
Spring practice begins the Monday after both the Highlands boys and girls basketball season concludes. It took place in freezing temperatures last spring.