|Weinrich, Staff to hold players accountable in off-season|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highlands kicker Nick Bowman kicks off against Louisville Doss in November.|
But success on the football field does not come unless everyone is on the same page. That's where Highlands Bluebirds Head Coach Brian Weinrich said he will hold the leaders accountable.
After last year's tough 3-8 season, Highlands linebacker Trey Bowden said not everyone bought into what helped the Bluebirds to 60 straight winning seasons prior to last year as well as 23 state championships. In 102 years of football, Highlands has an overall record of 879-231-26 good for second all-time in the country behind the 913-221-34 of Valdosta (Georgia), which included its first state championship since 1998 this past fall.
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"We have a couple things as far as that goes trying to promote an environment where the guys are taking responsibility of what's going on and making a big deal if somebody's not (at an off-season workout) or making sure every single guy is doing what we're doing the right way," Weinrich said. "We need more guys to develop that edge - guys that are willing to put it on their shoulders. All that other stuff is great, but on Fridays, you need guys that want to make plays. You can't do that by just showing up against Cooper and saying, 'I'm the guy.' You have to do that today when we're running or lifting weights. They seem to really be responding. It's been a great couple weeks."
The Bluebirds had 25 juniors on the roster last year. A number of them made significant contributions last year.
"The seniors just have to take it up another notch in leadership," said Trent Johnson, Highlands offensive and defensive lineman. "(It's about) leading by example and making sure everyone does everything right. Everyone has to give 100 percent every time."
Some of the returning players are playing basketball currently and some will play sports in the spring. But Highlands often sees a huge turnout for off-season workouts. Weinrich said it is important for the returning players to go above and beyond to help each other improve.
"We tell them, 'Good is not good enough," Weinrich said. "It's good to show up every day and do what you're supposed to do and it's good to work hard, but that's not good enough anymore. Every team we play, their level is getting higher, higher and higher. We have to get there. We have to show up and get after it and it's not good enough just for you to do that. You have to make sure the guys next to you and behind you are also doing it. When you do that, you start to see even more development whether it's the edge or attitude."
Weinrich said players are not going to gain 20 pounds in one week or bench an extra 50 pounds. But that last push could mean adding five pounds the next week. Highlands has diversified its off-season workouts in the pasKeaton Dut and Weinrich said the plan is to continue that trend this year.
"As a general rule, we don't want to do the same thing over, over and over. We try to keep them fresh," Weinrich said. "It keeps (the coaches) fresh when you don't do the same thing all the time. It helps to develop you athletically. We're not trying to get better at this one lift or this one drill. We're trying to get better as an overall athlete then get better as football players. One of the things we believe in exercise is challenging the body in different ways."
A huge area of focus is along the defensive line. The undersized Bluebird 3-4 defense struggled penetrating the backfield and disrupting opposing offenses last season. Opponents outscored Highlands, 463-367 for an average of about 42-33 last year. Teams rushed for 3,343 yards and passed for 1,938 for averages of about 304 and 176 against Highlands last year.
Highlands returns several defensive linemen who saw action last year. The returning seniors there will be Michael Dunn, Keaton Huddleston, Nate Davis and Nick Biltz. Biltz said every player on defense doing his job every play will be key. Opponents often took advantage when one player does not do his job for big plays last year, especially running the ball.
"You have to work on getting in your position and getting stronger, especially against those big offensive linemen," Biltz said. "You have to get your arm out and form that wall. You make (running backs) go outside then the defensive backs come in and make the tackle."
Weinrich also said the coaching staff will remain intact with a few changing titles. Weinrich will retake the role of Defensive Coordinator in addition to his duties as head coach. Zach Deaton will take over as Offensive Coordinator. Assistant Shelby Jones will coach the linebackers after serving as Defensive Coordinator the past three years. Weinrich served as Defensive Coordinator from 2002 to 2013 under for Highlands Head Coach Dale Mueller.
"It's anywhere whether it's at home or your job. Changing what you're doing is not that you're getting stale on purpose," Weinrich said. "You start to focus on things and it's nice to get a fresh set of ideas in. When Coach Mueller left, just with the way things fell, I felt like it was best for the team for me to go to offense. To be honest, it wasn't something I was super, super, super excited about. I enjoyed it. I had a blast. It's fun. I played offense my whole life. As soon as it went through my head and I had some conversations with coaches that that's what we were going to do, I felt my energy pick up. Watching film at home, I felt more comfortable. I feel I watch offenses better than I watch defenses when I'm watching film."
Former Highlands quarterback and defensive back Kevin Siple is back at Highlands as an assistant coaching the quarterbacks and running backs. Siple spent last season as an assistant at Scott after stints as head coach at Grant County and Bracken County. Siple will also assist the Highlands softball team.
"I've known him since I was born. He was the quarterback here when I was tiny," Weinrich said. "My grandma (Janet Hewling) ran the cafeteria here forever. I'd come up here on snow days when I was in elementary school. He helped in the cafeteria so I got to know him. When I was in middle school, he was helping coach freshman football here. I'd go out and we'd toss before summer practices. We kept in touch the whole time we were doing our thing. We had some conversations. One thing led to another. It just seemed like the perfect fit at the perfect time. He was away for a long time and he really wanted to get back here. I really wanted to get him back here. He's such a positive, upbeat guy. The guys are already gravitating toward him. They appreciate that. It's been a great fit so far."
The workouts are again taking place three times a week during the school year until spring practice takes place. Highlands scrimmages Cincinnati St. Xavier before opening at Cooper on Aug. 18.