|Bluebirds see things to build off in scrimmage loss|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands junior wide receiver Nick Veneman (9) makes his move toward the end zone while sophomore offensive lineman Trent Johnson (65) finds a defender to block.|
But that's typically been because the Highlands Bluebirds football team has faced bigger schools in the Louisville Trinity Shamrocks and Cincinnati St. Xavier Bombers from the largest of the six and seven classes in Kentucky and Ohio respectively. The same proved to be the cases Friday as St. Xavier won the scrimmage, 50-8.
"The whole purpose of a scrimmage is to find out what you need to work on," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "When you scrimmage these guys, you find out what you need to work on in a hurry. They're a huge Division I Ohio school and we're not. It's a whole different animal. That's what we enjoy. Our guys competed. Some things we can't fix. You can only be so big and so strong. We have to figure out how to make that work for what we're doing."
One thing that has been evident is the pre-season is the team chemistry. The Bluebirds hope that takes them a long way from last year's 8-6 campaign that ended in the Class 5A state semi-finals.
"It's a great group," Weinrich said. "They've been working hard every day. They've done everything we've asked them to do. They've done all the little things that don't show up on the scoreboard and hope they do as the season goes along."
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St. Xavier controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in its 3-3 stack defenses and spread offenses. The Bombers lined up in the spread formation this year as opposed to a two tight end set like last year to take advantage of senior quarterback Sean Clifford's arm. The Penn State University commit threw a touchdown pass and scored on a read-option play in the second quarter to help the Bombers to victory. Stats were not kept in the game.
"We still have to line up right," said Shelby Jones, Highlands Defensive Coordinator. "That's my fault. We're still thinking a little too much during the plays. We have to figure that out quick."
The only score in the game for Highlands came in the third quarter. Senior quarterback Brady Gosney found junior wide receiver Nick Veneman on an inside route for about a 30-yard score. Gosney then rolled right on the two-point conversion and found junior wide receiver Griffin Huber wide-open for the score.
Veneman knows he'll be compared to his older brother Alex, a 2015 Highlands graduate who walked on at Western Kentucky University but no longer plays football. Alex Veneman set a number of Northern Kentucky records in 2014 hauling in 95 catches for 1,595 yards and 22 touchdowns in helping Highlands to the Class 4A state championship. Nick Veneman has shown the speed to help the Bluebirds spread the field like Alex did.
"We hope that's a confidence-builder to encourage everyone to work harder and become better in later games," Nick Veneman said. "I'm just working hard every day and will try to top (Alex) if I'm able to."
Defensively, Highlands did have some backfield penetrations and tackles for a loss by senior defensive lineman Jacob Johnson among others. But Jones said Highlands needs to pursue the ball better as a group.
"They're doing a great job squeezing when they need to," Jones said. "They're not getting too far up-field, which is why they're doing a good job. From what I could tell, we weren't getting beat off the ball. We just need to get out second-layer guys coming faster. We'll find out what we need to do starting (Saturday). It's not going to take us five weeks this year. We're not going to let it happen."
The defensive highlight for Highlands came in the first quarter. Senior defensive back Ben Grothaus intercepted a Clifford pass and returned the ball to the Bomber 16.
"We have to take advantage of the situations we're given," Grothaus said. "(Friday) was kind of rough. But it's just a few minor mistakes that made the thing fall apart. We fix those on defense and we're set up for a nice season."
On special teams, senior defensive back Bradley Greene showed more brilliance with some nice returns on kickoffs and punts. Greene returned 14 kickoffs last year for 356 yards and a touchdown against Grant County. He also had 17 punt returns for 296 yards.
Angel becomes eligible:
Highlands senior wide receiver Brent Angel has been eligible for a week now. He'll be able to practice in pads Monday.
Angel transferred in from Covington Catholic in the off-season. Angel had 21 catches for 251 yards and a touchdown last year.
"I've just been watching a lot of film and getting to know the guys a lot," Angel said. "The past couple weeks, we've gotten really close. You couldn't really see it (Friday). But we should be a lot better (before the game against) Cooper. It'll be a really fun year."
Highlands opens the season in Fort Thomas on Friday against Cooper. Game time is 7 p.m.