Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Highlands Aims For Bigger Things With Full Access to Facilities in Offseason

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands rising seniors Sam Taylor (44) and Trey Bowden (right) tackle Pulaski County's Jaylon Conwell (33) in the Class 5A state semifinals in November. The Bluebirds will have full access to the facilities this offseason.
The Highlands Bluebirds football team started the offseason with a huge preparation victory.

That's full access to all the facilities.

Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich does not like to use it as an excuse for last season's 8-6 campaign that ended in the Class 5A state semifinals with a 41-31 loss to eventual state runner-up Pulaski County. But it did not help that Highlands did not have access to the football field until July 15 last year in terms of getting into various rhythms offensively and defensively. David Cecil Memorial Stadium saw a refurbished turf installed as the original one installed in 2002 began to have wear and tear.

The football team had access to the new field house in February of last year. But the Bluebirds used the old weight room until it opened.

"The biggest thing is we know what we have and we know what is ready to go," Weinrich said. "Last year, even when we got in, we weren't sure what we had. It took us a while to get comfortable with it and take advantage of it. The grass is down there so in February when we're sharing with baseball and softball, we have plenty of room. When it gets warm in May, we'll have access to the field. It's just a huge advantage we didn't have last year. It's obviously going to help us get better every day with what we're doing."

The Bluebirds will also have spring football this year after not being able to do it last year. Highlands has had it in March in the past. But Highlands will have it after Spring Break starting April 11.

The ultimate goal is to make it back to Bowling Green where the Bluebirds have enjoyed much success in past Decembers. Prior to last year, Highlands had won seven state championships in eight seasons and finished 4A state runner-up to Collins in 2013.

Many know the passing game needs improvement after averaging just 130.2 yards per game compared to about 237 in 2014. Highlands will have a battle for the starting quarterback. The three candidates are rising seniors Brady Gosney, Cam'Ron Johnston and rising junior Carl Schoellman.

All three saw limited varsity action last year. Gosney started the Scott County game in place of the injured Austin Hergott. Gosney completed 11-of-34 passes for 101 yards and three interceptions last year.

Highlands returns two experienced running backs in rising seniors Grant Murray and Jared Pulsfort. Murray rushed for 534 yards on 63 carries and six touchdowns and Pulsfort had 65 touches for 377 yards and three touchdowns. Highlands averaged 197.5 yards rushing per game last year.

The Bluebirds graduate their top five receivers and seven wide receivers total. But rising senior Trent Buchert and rising juniors Griffin Huber, Nick Veneman and Braden Posey showed promise last year. Huber is the leading returning receiver with 14 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown.

"I think it's going to help us a lot," Johnston said. "Getting the chemistry down is going to help us improve our yards per game and help us work on the plays on offense. We have two great senior running backs coming back with a heated quarterback battle this spring. I think it will push us all to be better players and it will push our receivers as well to become the best balanced offense that we can."

The biggest key for Highlands will be developing players on both the offensive and defensive lines. Highlands graduates five offensive lineman and four defensive lineman this spring. The offensive line returns rising seniors Kyle Finfrock and Michael Davidson.

"We're definitely getting our footwork a lot better," said Mitch Schry, Highlands rising senior offensive lineman. "I've seen us progress the last two weeks We're getting a lot stronger than we were. We've been mentoring all these sophomores that are going to be key, especially this year. This O-line is not the biggest, but it's going to be the quickest we've had in a while."

The Highlands defensive line returns rising seniors Drew Bravard. But filling in for Tyler Robinson will be key. Robinson drew a lot of double and triple teams last year.

"It helps us cooperate and help us become better as a team so we can perform to the best of our abilities," said Jacob Johnson, rising senior defensive lineman. "As long as the d-line keeps working on getting low and shooting their hands, they're going to dominate their gaps and their person every play. The defense is going to look great this year."

The Highlands defense allowed averages of 202.1 yards rushing and 154.4 passing. The talented Class 6A teams ran the ball well against them so that will also be a focus this offseason.

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