Thursday, November 10, 2016

Highlands Football Season Wrap-Up

Bluebirds Evaluate Good, Bad of 2016 Season

PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands juniors Michael Dunn (73) and Trent Johnston (65) line up in the playoff game at Louisville Doss on Friday. They return to anchor the offensive line next season.
It's definitely a feeling this program is not used to.

The Highlands Bluebirds football team is not playing in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 1991. Highlands finished 3-8 losing 52-32 to Louisville Doss in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs on Friday. This marked the first losing season for Highlands since going 4-5-1 in 1955.

This is an advertisement. 

Highlands has gone 11-14 the past two years after winning seven state championships in eight seasons compiling a 113-7 record. The Bluebirds lost 41-31 to Pulaski County in the state semi-finals last year. But Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich said nothing major will change this off-season.

"Every year, it's just a constant re-evaluation regardless of the outcome of that season," Weinrich said. "Obviously, if the record is in your favor, you feel like you've done a lot of good stuff and that's not always necessarily true. If you stay stale, it's eventually going to catch up to you. I don't necessarily think that everything we did was wrong. We did a lot of good stuff."

Highlands senior linebacker Trey Bowden said the coaching staff knows how to win state championships. Weinrich won one as a player in 1989 before leading the Bluebirds to one two years ago in his first season as head coach. Highlands assistant Matt Reed was a senior on the 2007 Class 5A state championship team and assistant Nick Behymer won a few as a player.

"We were a group of guys that were after the same goal. We were being coached by state championship winning coaches," Bowden said. "These aren't just just any ordinary coaches. You can't find that at a lot of places. Anyone can say what they want about the team. But these coaches made us better players, made us better people, made us better individuals as a whole and they know what it takes to win a state championship. It really takes a whole team to buy in to win a state championship and if one person doesn't buy in or not everyone buys in, then it's really hard to do so because those coaches pour their blood, sweat and tears into every single game every single night. They could be with their families, but they decide to be with us. I think that's the main reason we didn't go as far as we'd have liked to."

Bowden was one of 32 seniors on the squad. Bowden had two fumble recoveries and fellow senior linebacker Dalton Cornett led the Bluebirds with seven and senior defensive back Kyle Rust had two more. Cornett recovered one in the end zone for a touchdown in the season-opening 52-42 win over the 7-4 Cooper Jaguars, who are playing Ryle in the second round of the Class 6A playoffs this Friday.

Opponents outscored Highlands, 463-367 for an average of about 42-33. Teams rushed for 3,343 yards and passed for 1,938 for averages of about 304 and 176 respectively against the undersized 3-4 Highlands defense. The Bluebirds moved several guys from the offensive line to the defensive line including senior Mitch Schry and it worked as Highlands shut out Grant County, 50-0 before beating Boone County, 48-28 to end the season.

"Some of these teams we were playing against were way bigger than we were," Weinrich said. "We have to figure out a way to get bigger and I don't know exactly what that means. We have to definitely find ways to get stronger. We have to take what we do have and be as productive as possible with it."

Despite the adversity, Highlands had some positives from the season. The Bluebirds recorded 17 fumble recoveries and picked off three passes on the season. Defensively, Highlands also graduates defensive linemen Jacob Johnson, Max Abanto, Connor Myers, Bruce Seidel, Zach Sisson, linebackers Luke Ross, Luke Meyer, Carter Burke, Noah Kremer-Stegman, Trent Webster and defensive backs Sam Taylor, Bradley Greene, Ben Grothaus, Michael Siska and John Buchanan.

"Everyone wants to win and everyone wants to see Highlands football have a great year and go win a state championship, but it's not always about the wins and the losses," Rust said. "It's about the relationships you make with the players. It's about playing for your brothers and going out there and playing as a family and not playing as individuals."

Highlands put up 1,713 yards rushing offensively and passed for 2,692 yards for averages of about 156 rushing and 244 passing. Highlands senior quarterback Brady Gosney completed 200-of-339 passes for 2,681 yards, 29 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.

The Bluebirds also graduate senior running backs Grant Murray and Jared Pulsfort. Murray rushed for 989 yards on 163 yards and nine touchdowns for an average of just more than six yards per carry. Pulsfort rushed for 432 yards on 84 carries and nine touchdowns for an average of just more than five a touch before going out of the season with a torn Anterior Cruciated Ligament against Covington Catholic.

Highlands will graduate six wide receivers in Trent Buchert, Evan Fickenscher, Dougie Buckler, Chuckie Buckler, Brent Angel and Cameron Hays in addition to quarterback Cam'Ron Johnston. Buchert finished with 24 catches for 242 yards and three touchdowns. On the offensive line, Highlands graduates Michael Davidson, Kyle Finfrock and Trey King.

Highlands does return its leading wide receiver in junior Nick Veneman. Veneman finished with 46 catches for 1,026 yards and 12 touchdowns. Also returning are juniors Griffin Huber, Braden Posey, Jared Wogan and Grant Summers.

Highlands expects juniors Larry Wilson and Logan Aubrey to step forward at running back with junior center Sam Sparks, juniors Josh Homer, Michael Dunn, Justin Merkle and sophomore Trent Johnson returning on the offensive line. The quarterback could be either junior Carl Schoellman and sophomore Grady Cramer. The two played on the 6-3 junior varsity team this year. Dunn and Trent Johnson played on both lines this year.

"With the extra time, you have to use it to get better and be ready for next year," Sparks said. "I think we need to get faster and stronger. Experience is important to have."

The defense returns several key guys who saw significant action such as junior defensive linemen Keaton Huddleston, Nick Blitz, sophomore linebacker Cooper Schwalbach, junior linebacker Logan Sparks, junior defensive backs Joe Steiden and Crosley New.

"We felt really good at this time last year and we still feel good. It is what it is. You go back, start going through the roster and look at what you lost, what you need, what you have coming back, the strengths, the weaknesses," Weinrich said. "If there was a guy who was a junior last year, do you move him to a new position? It's just a constant process. We won't make any decisions tomorrow and we won't make any decisions by a certain time. We were making decisions the very last second of the season."

Highlands could also receive some help from the 7-3 Freshman team. One name receiving a lot of recognition is wide receiver/linebacker Brycen Huddleston.

Weinrich said the schedule should not change much. Scott County and district opponents Dixie Heights, Covington Catholic and Grant County will again be on the schedule. Weinrich said contracts need to be worked out after various teams are eliminated from the playoffs. One or two non-district opponents could change depending on schedules. Highlands begins off-season work-outs in January.

No comments:

Post a Comment