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Saturday, September 17, 2016

FTM Sports Reporter G. Michael Graham commentary on Highlands football

Unified or Divided?
PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, Highlands senior offensive lineman Kyle Finfrock (72) cuts off St. Xavier senior defensive lineman Kyle Robinson (94) in Friday's road game. Finfrock returned from injury in the game.
Earlier this week, my Mom and I had a great talk about handling some issues going on in our very country.

She heard a sermon about saying things to unify people and not divide. Without getting political, is it easy to do when you see something go against what you believe or don't agree with? No. Our nature leads us to become upset. I'm as guilty about it as anyone.

That more than applies to the Highlands Bluebirds football team and its 1-4 record. When you've had 60 straight winning seasons, it's hard to fathom a record like this. This marks the second straight year of a start like this against tough Class 6A competition. I admittedly have had a number of people ask me what's wrong with the Bluebirds.

Like this record or even a winless record halfway through the season, the critics tend to come out. The coaches and players especially feel that heat. They are more than working hard to try to achieve the accomplishment of past great Highlands teams including the 2014 squad that rallied to beat Owensboro, 49-42 in the Class 4A state championship marking the 23rd state championship in school history. Like last year's squad, things have unfortunately not gone their way against the better 6A squads in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

While it is my job to be objective and even be fair to the opponents, which I have, I have also not forgotten the Bluebird football players are teen-age boys. Even in the past when I've covered struggling teams, I've found positives and this team has plenty of them.

The Bluebird defense did force St. Xavier to punt after senior Connor Myers and junior Keaton Huddleston sacked Tiger quarterback Desmond Ridder after Ryle did not punt at all last week. Highlands senior defensive back Sam Taylor also recovered a Tiger fumble on the first drive of the game after a big play mostly because the Bluebird defenders did not give up on the play. If Highlands only had more of them against Campbell County and Scott County, we're probably talking about 3-2 or even a 2-3 record as opposed to 1-4.

Offensively, Highlands senior quarterback Brady Gosney has accepted the challenge to lead well. He keeps plays alive and drills the ball with amazing accuracy to the wide receivers. This offense has shown to be as effective as past vaunted Highlands offenses a number of times this year.

Highlands can take solice in knowing that other tradition-rich programs are struggling as well. Louisville Central, for example, is 0-4 on the season. Paducah Tilghman came into the season with a new head coach and lost its first four games before beating Madisonville-North Hopkins, 48-21 on Friday.

In talking to Highlands Defensive Coordinator Shelby Jones this week, I even mentioned the Concord (California) De La Salle Spartans. De La Salle still holds the record for the longest winning streak in the country with 151 straight wins between 1992 and 2004. The book made into a movie called When the Game Stands Tall even showed how the team had to deal with adversity.

So instead of criticizing the players and coaches, I challenge those who care about this program to reach out to them and ask how they can help them even if it's just words of encouragement. That goes a lot further than divisive talk.

I saw Highlands senior offensive lineman Kyle Finfrock and senior linebacker Trey Bowden after the game. After encouraging them, I told them about a friend I'd recently lost in a hit-and-run.

I lived in Nashville for 7.5 years before ending up in Northern Kentucky. During my last few years there, I had a neighbor and friend named Elise Denton. Tears came out of my eyes while I told them about her and they're even coming out while I write this.

She was 29 when her life ended. I can only imagine the pain her family and even her boyfriend continue to endure. So like Highlands senior running back Jared Pulsfort with his step-father, I've dedicated this sports season to her. This is one of many examples of how there are worse things going on in life than sports.

In terms of turning around the season, this year's Highlands football team has examples it can look to. Last year's Bluebird football team rebounded from a 1-5 start to finish 8-6 before losing in the Class 5A state semi-finals. Highlands still won district and region crowns last year during the seven-game winning streak.

The Highlands soccer teams can also be looked at for the seasons they are having, which includes wins over the defending state champions Monday and Tuesday respectively. The Ladybirds stand 10-0-1 ranked third in Kentucky and 14th in the country with a chance to win the prestigious Lexington Catholic Cup tonight at 7 p.m. against Simon Kenton.

But just four years ago, the program won just three games. Despite that, the head coach of that team in Tommy Kearns said he still had fun with those players. That set a stage for the turn-around.

The Bluebirds stand 9-1-2 with the only loss coming to Louisville Trinity in the third game of the season. They've won six straight.

They are trying to go on a deep postseason run like the 2013 squad that won the 9th Region. That team also beat West Jessamine in the sectional round of the state tournament before losing to eventual state champion Lexington Paul Dunbar in the state quarterfinals. Highlands struggled out of the gate in both 2014 and 2015 before the 2014 squad won the program's first district championship since 2010.

Kentucky's state motto is "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." The question people need to answer in all aspects of life and not just sports is, "Which one are you going to chose?"

1 comment:

  1. The expectations to win at Highlands are extremely high. But while the accomplishments of the past are something to be proud of it has no bearing on the present. It's irrelevant. It is up to these players and these coaches to determine how their season will play out -- not the fans. Burdening them with the weight of the past isn't going to help them correct the mistakes coach is talking about and panic isn't a recipe for winning either.