|Bluebirds Double Last Year's Win Total|
|PHOTO: Allen Ramsey, DWCPhoto.com. Highland senior Nick Biltz (77) pursues Oldham County quarterback Erix Edwards (14) in the first round of the playoffs. Biltz is one of 25 seniors on this year's team.|
But the hope is the seniors look back on the season as one that saw the start of the program's rise back to greatness. During their four years of high school, Highlands finished 30-24 with two district championships, two region championships and a state championship.
After winning state in 2014 when they were freshmen and going back to the state semifinals a year later, Highlands dipped to 3-8 overall for its first losing season since going 4-5-1 in 1955. The Bluebirds rebounded to double that total going 6-6 this year and advancing to the second round of the playoffs. The hardest part of that is giving up leads in the final five minutes in three of those games including the 35-34 loss at South Oldham in the second round of the playoffs Friday.
"(The seniors) did a good job all year from January on," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "They deserved so much more than this. It's hard to see them go, especially on a night like this. I just feel terrible that I didn't do a good job to get them in a better spot. They gave everything they had every single day."
Former players said not everyone buying into the Highlands way in 2016 led to the down season. The coaching staff hoped this year's seniors would rise up and show the leadership they'd been shown by previous classes in the past.
"I think the seniors really picked it up this year compared to last year and held everyone accountable," said Nick Veneman, Highlands senior wide receiver. "I think that just made us a stronger team even though the record may not show it as much. I think we really did have a solid team."
Veneman finished the season with 47 catches for 746 yards and 12 touchdowns. Fellow senior wide receiver Jared Wogan had 38 catches for 499 yards and three touchdowns. Senior wide receiver Grant Summers had 12 catches for 109 yards and Griffin Huber had 15 for 160. The other three senior wide receivers were Chas Sand, Jason Paul and Jack Shultz. Huber also played linebacker and recovered a fumble.
Highlands senior quarterback Carl Schoellman started every regular season game and completed 155-of-257 passes for 1,838 yards, 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The two senior running backs were Larry Wilson and Logan Aubrey. Wilson rushed for 686 yards on 102 yards and two touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The Bluebirds will graduate five offensive linemen from the team that helped the Bluebirds average just more than 143 yards rushing and 196 passing. They are Evan Owens, Josh Homer, Michael Dunn, Justin Merkle, Sam Sparks and Keaton Huddleston. Dunn also played some on the defensive line.
"I would say that I love these kids, particularly these seniors," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "I can't enough good things about them. They are such a good group of men. I know that this is not going to define them and they are going to be amazing people in their community, in their jobs and in their families. Words can't express how much I care for these guys and respect them so much."
The Highlands defense recorded 15 fumble recoveries and 15 interceptions this year. The Bluebirds had just three interceptions in 2016. Highlands senior defensive back Joe Steiden had a team-high six interceptions including a school record four in the season-opening win at Cooper to go with a fumble recovery. Senior defensive back Harrison Traylor had three interceptions and a fumble recovery. Ethan Sketch was the other Highlands senior defensive back.
Highlands switched to a 3-5 defense this year and senior linebackers Crosley New, Logan Sparks and Logan Seiple played a role in that change. New had two fumble recoveries. The senior defensive linemen were Nick Biltz, Korbyn Poole and Nate Davis.
"Words can't express how thankful I am for Highlands football shaping me into the person I am today," Sparks Tweeted over the weekend. "I'll always cherish the relationships I've formed and the memories made. Thanks to everyone who made it all happen!"
In the previous two seasons, Highlands beat just one team that finished with a winning record. The Bluebirds had two victories over two teams that finished with winning records in Campbell County (7-5) and Oldham County (6-5).