Thursday, March 24, 2016

Four in mix for Highlands starting quarterback role

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands quarterback Brady Gosney (5) runs the read-option with running back Larry Wilson (middle) in the second-round Class 5A playoff game against Dixie Heights last season. Gosney is one of four players battling for the stating quarterback job next season.
Instead of the adjective clear-cut that has pretty much described the race for the role of starting quarterback for the Highlands Bluebirds football team, it will be competitive this off-season.

A senior has been the starting quarterback on the depth chart entering the season every year dating back to 2010 when Patrick Towles earned the role as a junior. Towles was the last quarterback to enter the season as the starter for more than one season.

Towles took over as starting quarterback as a sophomore midway through the 2009 undefeated Class 5A state championship run after Will Bardo went down with an injury in the huge 12-7 victory over Cincinnati St. Xavier. That victory propelled the Bluebirds to a program-best third ranking in the final USA Today Super 25 poll.

Four players will battle for that role this off-season after senior Austin Hergott takes his talents to Central Michigan University in seniors-to-be Brady Gosney, Cam'Ron Johnston, junior-to-be Carl Schoellman and sophomore-to-be Grady Cramer. All four have specific areas they aim to improve at in the offseason.

The four are basically lined up at the starting line. Head Coach Brian Weinrich indicated things will stay that way until at least the summer. Gosney and Cramer are playing baseball while Johnston and Schoellman are participating in the team's offseason conditioning program.

"We're not going to waste our time thinking about that right now," Weinrich said. "Right now, we're not playing a whole lot of football. It's just overall athletic development. Spring football is going to be focused on a lot of little things. Those guys will get the football reps in. Hopefully, they'll take advantage of that situation. We're just going to take advantage of that time and get better."

Gosney has the most varsity experience of the four after backing up Hergott last season. Gosney completed 11-of-34 passes for 101 yards and three interceptions last year and rushed for 32 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns last year.

Gosney started the game at Scott County for the injured Hergott. Gosney hopes to improve his footwork and throwing mechanics.

Gosney realizes the importance of earning the trust of the coaches. Quarterbacks need to be counted on to make the right reads and accurate throws to gain crucial first downs and touchdowns in crunch time.

Beau Hoge displayed that on the game-winning drive against Owensboro in the Class 4A state championship game in 2014. He scored the game-winning touchdown with 2:30 left on a quarterback sweep to the left.

"We're basically talking to (the coaches) a lot," Gosney said. "We're going over film with them every other day trying to make sure what he's seeing, we're seeing and thinking the same things."

Johnston and Schoellman also saw limited varsity action. Johnston rushed one time for eight yards against Grant County and Schoellman did not complete his lone pass attempt. But Gosney, Schoellman and Johnston helped the Highlands junior varsity team to a 7-2 record. The Bluebirds lost to just Simon Kenton and Cincinnati (Ohio) La Salle.

Johnston will be working on his reads and decision-making. Johnston's run came off a read-option play. Hoge and Hergott made plays off that play in previous years. Hergott scored a touchdown on one in the state semifinal loss to Pulaski County.

"That's really vital because the longer you hold onto the ball, the better the read you can make and the better the read you make (leads to) better plays," Johnston said. "I want to make my decisions quicker and more accurate."

Schoellman just came back to football conditioning from basketball season. He wants to improve his arm strength and decision-making. The players know it is vital to support each other no matter who wins the job.

"We all just push each other to become the best we can be because someone's going to have to do it," Schoellman said. "Whoever that is, hopefully they're the best equipped and ready to go."

Cramer helped the Highlands freshman team go 7-3 throwing 25 touchdown passes. The Bluebird freshmen lost to just Campbell County, Covington Catholic and Louisville Trinity.

Cramer has grown to 6-1. Cramer wants to improve his poise in the pocket and his footwork. He said he'll be attending camps at the University of Cincinnati and Indiana University to do that.

Looking at his freshman film, one play that stands out came in the 19-18 win at Conner. Highlands had the ball at its own 3-yard-line. But Cramer hit eighth-grader Brycen Huddleston around the Bluebird 45 in one-on-one coverage. Huddleston then outraced the Cougar defender for the long touchdown.

The Bluebirds have several wide receivers coming back such as senior-to-be Trent Buchert and juniors-to-be Braden Posey, Griffin Huber and Nick Veneman. Huber is the leading returning receiver with 14 catches for 203 yards and a touchdown. Kramer understands the importance of reading routes and hitting wide receivers at the right locations against various defenses.

"It comes with practice," Cramer said. "You just have to be poised in the pocket and know where the receivers are going, know the routes and be smart."

All four players have plans if they do not win the job. Gosney said he'd look for a spot on the defensive side of the ball and Johnston said he'd look at a tight end spot. Schoellman and Cramer would probably go to the junior varsity squad and try to win the job in future years with one and two seasons left after this year respectively.

The hope for next season no matter who wins the job is to improve the passing game to where opponents can't load the box against the run. Highlands averaged 130.2 yards per game passing the ball last year.

Spring football begins April 11 and goes to April 26. The Bluebirds will practice nine of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association-allowed 10 days during that time.






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