By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The end result did not turn out the same for the previous six senior classes.
But the senior class of this past football season did what it could to add to the great history of Highlands Bluebird football. The Bluebirds rank second in the nation for the most wins in school history with 855 dating back to 1915. Valdosta (Ga.) is first with 882 victories since 1913.
The Bluebirds held their annual banquet on Sunday at the Syndicate in Newport to celebrate the year’s accomplishments and recognize the players in all four classes in addition to the coaches and support staff. Highlands finished 13-2 this past season losing 37-34 to Collins the final seconds of the Class 4A title game.
The Bluebirds will graduate 32 seniors from that team. That class did what only two other schools have done in the previous four seasons. That’s play 60 games. Mayfield and Belfry also accomplished the feat. Mayfield also won three state championships during that time while Belfry won its first during that time with a 3-0 win over Wayne County in the 3A title game.
“These guys had just a phenomenal career,” said Dale Mueller, Highlands Director of Athletics and recently retired head coach. “They’ve really set a whole standard of what being a high school football player is supposed to be. The list of super, dedicated guys goes on and on. Sometimes you lose games by a fraction of an inch and that isn’t what defines the great impact these guys have had on the program.”
A number of the seniors received awards. Quarterback Drew Houliston earned the Highlands Most Valuable Player award after he completed 231-of-339 passes for 4,045 yards and 50 touchdowns for a 68 percent completion rate.
Running back Zach Harris received the Offensive MVP award. He rushed for 1,103 yards, 24 touchdowns and hauled in 31 catches for 485 yards and nine scores. Harris is one of three backs to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive years in the last 20 years.
On the offensive line, Bryan Saunders won the Mr. Highlands Football Award and Tyler Schweitzer was named the Most Valuable Offensive Lineman. Defensively, lineman Seth Hope and linebacker Thomas Wrobleski were defensive MVPS. Hope had five sacks and 13.5 tackles for a loss. Wrobleski had five tackles for a loss and recovered a fumble.
“What I liked the most about them is they never got complacent. It would have been very easy to sit back and ride the curtails of everyone else,” said Brian Weinrich, Highlands newly-named head coach. “They tried to make the foundation even stronger. Even though we came up six points short of a perfect season, (the foundation) is still better now than it was before. They kept coming in every day and kept getting better. They were good examples for the younger players.”
The other graduating seniors are Evan Allen, Michael Ayers, Jackson Bardo, Blesser, Luke Brockett, Joey Cochran, Brian Condon, Matt Farney, Austin Greene, Ryan Greene, Jaylen Hayes, Brandon Hergott, Braden Hicks, Johnny Kemplin, Kendall Kramer, Joey Kruse, Sean Lemmons, Sam Little, Avery McDaniel, Nathan Merkle, Jake Parker, Alex Shadle, Kyle Thurston, Nick True, Scott Turner and Matt Walkenhorst. Hope, True and Hicks have committed to Cornell University, Western Kentucky University and Morehead State respectively. Several others are also looking to play college football.
“I will definitely miss my teammates,” Ryan Greene said. “They were my brothers here for four years. I wouldn’t trade them for the world. That’s what I’m going to miss the most about playing for Highlands. The run was great. I wish we could have (won state), but life goes on.”
The players got together at the end of the ceremony and gave gifts to the coaches. One was a chair with all 11 state championships to Mueller.
Junior Jensen Feggins received the underclassman offensive MVP award and classmate linebacker Brady Murray was named underclassman defensive MVP. Feggins led the team with 51 catches for 1100 yards and 15 touchdowns and Murray had seven tackles for a loss, an interception and recovered one fumble.
“Hard work pays off. Through tough times, you have to persevere and keep going, especially with the state loss,” Highlands junior Beau Hoge said when asked what lessons he learned from the seniors. “Your true character comes out. We definitely had a lot of good guys in the senior class. It’s huge motivation every year to keep the tradition going.”
The returning Bluebirds started working toward the next season in early January. Highlands will play its 100th season next year.