|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands scrimmages at Cincinnati St. Xavier on Friday at 7 p.m.|
The Highlands Bluebirds football team will do that again Friday in the annual scrimmage against the Cincinnati St. Xavier Bombers of the rugged Greater Catholic League South. This marks the third straight season the two will meet in the preseason. Game time is 7 p.m.
"The nice thing about scrimmaging a team like St. X is you know you're going to play one of the best teams around," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "One thing is it's easy to keep these guys focused and their intensity up because they're excited about playing a great team. If they don't play great, then we're going to look bad. Each day, they know they have to get better if they're going to try to compete against St. X. We tell them and they believe it is a scrimmage tells you what kind of team you have."
Highlands will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in senior Brady Gosney. The Bluebirds return several key skill players and offensive linemen from last year's 8-6 team that averaged 197.5 yards running the football and 130.2 passing.
Highlands has not unveiled the complete package in past scrimmages. The same could be true this year in the four-quarter scrimmage. Teams often work on specific things in scrimmages. That could be a number of things like eliminating mistakes.
Junior Sam Sparks will take over at center for the graduated Evan Richardson for Highlands. Sparks and Gosney want to make sure the snap makes it to the quarterback without any problems in both shotgun and under-center sets. Teams sometimes lose games because of bad snaps.
"It's just important to get a lot of reps in practice and get with the quarterback to figure out how they want the ball snapped and getting the plays down," Sparks said. "We've been getting better at it throughout the years. You just have to work on it a lot."
St. Xavier is coming off a 7-5 season that ended with a 42-14 loss to Cincinnati Colerain in the second round of the Division I playoffs. The Bombers run a 3-3 Stack defense similar to what Campbell County runs.
"They crowd in there with their 3-3 and they're not going to get out of it," Weinrich said. "They let their linebackers run and they're five guys on the back end. They take their best players and put them (in the back) and free them up. It's hard to pop things against it."
Weinrich has talked about the game of inches in the past, especially in the playoffs. That will again be a key against St. Xavier.
"You can't make a mistake. You have to be on who you're supposed to block and what route you're supposed run and who you're supposed to guard," Weinrich said. "If you make a mistake against these guys, it will show up. The nice thing is when this game is over, we're still 0-0. We have to take that film and learn from it quickly."
On the other side, the 3-4 Highlands will be preparing for senior quarterback Sean Clifford. Clifford is committed to Penn State University. He threw for 2,578 yards and 21 touchdowns and rushed for 538 yards and eight touchdowns.
"Going up against talent that is so great like that really helps us prepare for every team in general. He's about 6-3 and over 200 pounds," said Trey Bowden, Highlands senior linebacker. "If we can slow down and bring down a guy like that, I'm sure we can do that against an other team out there. It's about reading your keys and doing your job. If he comes to you, great. As a linebacker, you have a very important job of stopping the quarterback."
St. Xavier came out in a two-tight end set last year mostly running the ball, but Highlands Defensive Coordinator Shelby Jones said that could change this year. The Bombers mixed play-action pass off the runs. Seniors Colton Paul and Louis Raines return after recording 27 and 26 catches respectively. Paul had four touchdown catches.
"We're ready to see another team like everyone else is," Jones said. "We have to make sure we're lining up correctly. This will be our opportunity to see who is going to be able to step up and play and who is not."
Highlands opens the season Aug. 19 against Cooper. Game time is 7 p.m.