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Thursday, August 4, 2016

Highlands FB Preview: Offensive Line

Highlands offensive line hopes to maintain aggressive play

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior Mitch Schry (62) is one of four senior offensive linemen for the Bluebirds.

Editor's Note: This is the next of a number of previews leading up to the season.

The returning offensive linemen looked forward to spring ball for a number of reasons after last season ended with an 8-6 mark in the Class 5A state semi-finals.

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The main reason was to develop cohesion running the plays. They were not able to start that process until the summer and it hurt in a 1-5 start. Highlands did not have spring ball in 2015 because the school refurbished the turf at David Cecil Memorial Stadium.

"We're definitely getting our footwork a lot better," said Mitch Schry, Highlands senior offensive lineman. "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. The O-line is not the biggest, but it's going to be the quickest we've had in a while."

It's not like two seasons ago when Highlands broke in totally new starters on its way to the 2014 Class 4A state championship. Twelve senior offensive linemen graduated from the 2013 Class 4A state runner-up team.

The Bluebirds return three players with significant varsity experience in seniors Kyle Finfrock, Michael Davidson and junior Michael Dunn on the offensive line. Highlands graduated Carson Haas, Bo Hebel, Elijah Cox-Miller, Evan Richardson and Nathan Raleigh from last year's offensive line. Hebel took his talents to Lindsey Wilson University.

Highlands hopes to improve on last year's offensive averages. The Bluebirds averaged 327.7 yards per game with 197.5 coming on the ground and 130.2 coming through the air. Highlands converted 60-of-165 on third down for 36 percent and 23-of-40 on fourth for 58 percent.

"The spring was great for them," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We got a lot of experience and a lot of film. We have a feel for what they can do and they have a feel for what we're trying to get done. The young guys have to get better in a hurry. As every coach in the country knows, that's the group that's going to make you go or not go so they're working hard."

Finfrock said he's been working on maintaining solid footwork. He knows a key to solid line play is staying aggressive. For instance, great linemen go block another defensive player once their first one is on the ground. Weinrich said repetition helps with that.

"A lot of our blocking is based on double teams so we really need to work together as a team to get movement up front and win the war in the trenches," Finfrock said. "That's what we've been working on in practice."

Schry and Trey King are the other two returning senior offensive linemen. King said Highlands has gone from man blocking schemes to zone blocking schemes beginning in 2014 when Weinrich became the head coach.

"I think we're doing well this year," King said. "We have different calls for our blocking schemes. The new guys who come in learn it quickly so that's a way for us to communicate without giving anything away."

Four juniors will add to the depth and some sophomores could contribute there as well. The other three aside from Dunn are Josh Homer, Justin Merkle and Sam Sparks. Sparks is expected to take over for Richardson at center.

Highlands offensive line coaches Scott Turner and Wayne Hall have done well with preparing the players for the season. Last year's improvements paid off during district and playoff time.

"Basically what they say goes," Davidson said. "It's worked out ever since. They know what they're talking about and know what they're doing."

Highlands scrimmages at Cincinnati St. Xavier on Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. The Bluebirds take on Cooper to open the season on Aug. 19.

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