By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Like anything in life, taking over a young football program has its blessings and challenges.
But 1995 Highlands graduate Jeff Barth and staff have the Walton-Verona Bearcats headed in the right direction after six seasons. The Bearcats have gone 37-21 under Barth’s guidance and are 41-27 overall.
“The blessing is the ability to build from the ground level,” Barth said. “It is difficult to change a program that over time develops bad habits, attitudes and work ethic. Thorough our guys were inexperienced the first couple years, they constantly worked to get better and learn the game. To build a program from its infancy is a true blessing. Most coaches never get the unique opportunity.”
Walton-Verona started out in Class A, District 3 with state power Beechwood before moving to Class 2A, District 5 in 2011. The Bearcats won their first district championship in 2012 going 10-3 and advanced to the regional title game losing to eventual 2A champion Newport Central Catholic, 49-14.
They went 9-3 last year losing 36-0 to the Thoroughbreds in the second round of the playoffs. A next step for Walton-Verona would be to beat a state power like Newport Central Catholic. The Thoroughbreds finished state runner-up in 2A to Louisville DeSales.
“The challenge is similar to the blessing,” Barth said. “A lot of people in successful blue-chip programs take for granted the established youth league and tradition which took years if not generations to build. Highlands, Newport Central Catholic and Beechwood all have kids dream of state championships at an early age. In many cases, their parents, grandparents, even great grandparents played and won for the program. Expectations and work ethic are handed down from generation to generation.”
Barth said the coaching staff wants to make the feeder programs stronger to close the gap on the elite teams in Kentucky. For instance, the Bearcats have had four head middle school coaches in five years. But the current head coach is entering his third season.
Barth’s staff is comprised of several Highlands alums in David Berringer, Mark Berringer, Pete Valz and Jason Sullivan. Newport Central Catholic alum Brian Simmins is also on the staff and Highlands alum Matt Huddleston worked part-time with the kickers in 2010.
Valz is the Offensive Coordinator and works a lot with the quarterbacks and wide receivers. Valz graduated from Highlands in 1990. He played running back and defensive back on the 1989 state championship team. He works in investment property for his Dad as a remodeler, manager and in maintenance.
“We are playing to our strengths this year,” Valz said. “We have a great group on the offensive line returning. We will try to be more balanced, but we still like to run the ball and slow the game just a bit. Another great season will help with more kids wanting to play and work out in the offseason.”
Walton-Verona is a Hybrid Wing-T quad. The Bearcats might put the quarterback under center with a tight end and three backs one year then spread teams out in the shotgun formation other years depending on personnel strengths.
David Berringer is the Defensive Coordinator and works a lot with the offensive and defensive lines. His father Mark Berringer assists with the offensive and defensive lines. Walton-Verona’s base defense is hybrid 4-3 and 3-4 sets similar to what Hanover College (Indiana) ran when Barth played there.
David Berringer graduated in 1994 and played offensive and defensive tackle on the 1992 state championship team before going on to play for the University of Kentucky. He currently owns Distinctive Dining Solutions that caters meals to day care center.
Mark Berringer graduated in 1969 and played on the defensive line for the 1968 state championship Highlands squad. He currently manages the United States Information Technology Operations for Avon Products, Inc.
“We will be working extensively on refining our techniques and getting more explosive off the ball on both sides, plus finishing blocks and improving our pass blocking on offense,” Mark Berringer said. “We will also be working hard to develop key backups.”
Sullivan was a full-time assistant in 2010 but work took him out of the area. He returns as a part-time assistant this year. He will be working with the receivers this year.
“It’s time to install the forward pass,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have gotten to the point that the program can be successful throwing the ball. It’s been a long road. Coach Barth, Coach Valz and I are Wing-T guys so don’t expect it to be conventional forward passes. That’s not how our brains work. Don’t be surprised if you see a three-quarterback set.”
Barth took over as Head Coach in 2009. That was the second year of varsity football for the Bearcats.
“Day after day, we are building a Tradition of Excellence,” Barth said. “Walton-Verona is a fantastic school district and a very tight-knit community. Our players are coachable and work hard, which is a reflection of the high expectations the school, parents and community place on our student-athletes.”
Barth also teaches eighth-grade Social Studies and Early American History from the Age of Exploration through the Civil War and Reconstruction. This marks his 13th year overall teaching the subject.
Barth taught and coached for six years at South Oldham Middle School. He was a middle school football assistant and head eighth grade basketball coach. He also taught and coached for two years at Woodland Middle School in Taylor Mill. He was an assistant football coach at Woodland one year then head football coach his second year. He also coached sixth grade basketball.
Barth played offensive guard, middle linebacker and on special teams at Highlands. He played on the 1992 state championship team with David Barringer and Sullivan. His senior year was the first year that Dale Mueller became head coach.
“Winning a state championship is something that stays with you forever, and I want nothing more than our guys to be able to share that experience,” Barth said. “I grew up in a state championship house. My Dad played for Dayton’s only state championship in 1966 and I learned the value of hard work from him and my mom. I was a young pup on the 1992 team, but was fortunate to letter on special teams, and win a state championship with my older brother Eric.”
Walton-Verona struggled to 2-8 in 2009 in Barth’s first year as Head Coach. But the Bearcats broke through with their first-ever playoff win on Nov. 5, 2010 with a 46-0 blanking of Bracken County. Sullivan said Highlands and Beechwood helped Walton-Verona out with pads that first year.
“That is a tribute to our guys working hard to get better every day, our dedicated staff, determined administration and supportive community,” Barth said. “Our arrow is definitely heading up!”
One player the Bearcats can build around is rising senior running back Mason Compton. Compton is a candidate to break the school’s single-season rushing record. Compton has run for 1,682 yards on 301 carries and 22 touchdowns for an average of about 5.6 yards per carry for his career. He ran for 1,155 yards and 14 touchdowns on 204 carries and recorded 29 tackles and two interceptions on defense last year.
The school record for career rushing yards is 2,063 held by Nolan Brown and 32 touchdowns held by Chris Lattimore. Andrew Baumgartner holds the single-season records with 1,220 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The journey for Walton-Verona continues Aug. 22. The Bearcats play host to Bellevue at 7 p.m.