Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bluebirds make most of new field house with no spring practice

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands rising seniors Conner Welsch (5) and Cody Stamper (23) pursue Ashland's Jalon Taylor (24) during the playoff game last year. The Bluebirds will not have a regular spring practice this year because the school is replacing the turf at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.
They may not have had their annual spring practice this year.

A look at the torn-up artificial turf at David Cecil Memorial Stadium states all that needs to be said about that. The school is replacing the turf that was installed in 2002 because it was showing signs of wear. Fort Thomas Independent School District Director of Operations Jerry Wissman said the cost of the project is $1,292,624 and is being funded via a donation from the Fort Thomas Education Foundation and the school's general operating budget.

But the Highlands Bluebirds football team is taking advantage of the new field house. It was completed months ago for $3,345,000. It was funded the same way as the new turf in addition to local bond sales through the Facility Support Program of Kentucky (FSPK).

The Bluebirds have either been on the turf downstairs or upstairs in the weight room. The new weight room is not as cramped as the one near the football locker rooms.

"We're just not doing equipment practice and we're completely fine with that," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Football Coach. "Without a field up there, we can't get on (the practice field) so we had no place to go for spring football. We felt it was in our best interest to focus up here and continue to do our offseason stuff. We feel we get as much out of our offseason as we would in spring practice."

The Bluebirds entered the offseason fresh off their seventh state championship in eight years and 23rd overall. They are moving up to Class 5A after spending the last four seasons in 4A. The Bluebirds spent the 2007 through 2010 seasons in 5A in the same district with Dixie Heights, Covington Catholic and Scott. The district will be the same except Grant County will be there instead of Scott.

Highlands is ranked number one in 5A in some preseason polls. Dixie Heights and CovCath have been in the top five along with defending champion Pulaski County and Bowling Green. Dixie Heights finished runner-up in 6A last year and Highlands has beaten CovCath the last four years in the region championship.

"It's a nice opportunity to get bigger, stronger and faster for the season and get an edge on opponents," said Conner Welsch, Highlands rising senior linebacker. "This time is when football games are won. I think we'll have good guys on both sides of the ball no matter what. With these coaches, you see guys that don't look so good at the beginning of weights, but by the season, they've improved so much and they're making an impact already. I think we'll be fine if guys keep working hard and do what the coaches tell them to do."

The indoor turf makes a difference because the majority of fields these days have artificial turf. The team has often worked out on cement or wooden floors indoors in the past.

"It's awesome," said Mitch Cain, Highlands rising senior wide receiver. "With the turf in here, we've been able to do little drills, which will impact the season more than anybody would ever expect. They look goofy at times if you come in here and watch us do those tag drills. But during the season, those are the most important things with the footwork. They push us (in the weight room). That's how most of our athletes turn into the athletes we are."

Highlands hopes to again use its depth to wear out opponents. The Bluebirds have gone 113-7 since the start of 2007. They are 868-229-26 in 100 seasons of football good for second in the country in terms of all-time wins in program history.

The Bluebirds have had more than 50 rising sophomores, juniors and seniors participate in offseason workouts. The rest of the team is playing baseball or running track.

"Some days, you think of how you're missing some guys," Weinrich said. "But we still have 50 guys here. It wasn't that long ago when I was coaching here when we had 50 guys on the team. To have 50 guys here and 50 guys in other sports trying to win games, it's a great spring all around."

Highlands will need a number of players to step forward with the graduation of 26 seniors. The main one is at quarterback like it has been the last couple years. Rising senior Austin Hergott is expected to take over there. As a junior backing up Beau Hoge, he completed 8-of-23 passes for 74 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. Hergott also had 10 rushes for 26 yards.

Cain is the team's returning receiver. He had 28 catches for 464 yards and four touchdowns.

"It's mostly getting on the same page with (the quarterbacks) trying to do as much as we can with them before the season," Cain said. "We make sure we know each other before the season - how we run routes and where (the quarterback) is going to put it."

Highlands scrimmages Cincinnati St. Xavier on Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. before starting the season Aug. 21. The Bluebirds travel to Cooper for a 7:30 p.m. contest.

1 comment: