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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Highlands Football Hopes to Take More Steps in Off-Season

Solid Offensive Line Play Again Huge Priority for Bluebirds

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior offensive lineman Brock Huber looks for a block in the region championship at Covington Catholic. Huber will be one of three returning starters on the offensive line next season.
Though the Highlands Bluebirds football team may not have seemed to move the ball up and down the field as consistently as the past, the Bluebirds still put up nice numbers in the 10-3 season offensively.

Highlands outscored opponents, 409-183 for averages of just more than 31-14. The Bluebirds also averaged exactly 307 yards per game offensively. They put up 1,859 rushing and 2,132 passing for averages of 143 rushing and 164 passing.

In their three losses, the Bluebirds put up just 21 points. Both those teams in Covington Catholic (14-0) and Scott County (11-3) are playing for state championships this weekend in Class 5A and 6A respectively.

But Highlands was not alone there. Led by junior linebacker and Notre Dame commit Michael Mayer, the CovCath defense has allowed an average of just under 10 points per game. The Colonels have four shutouts this season including the 36-0 blanking of the Bluebirds in the region finals in Park Hills. They own the state's longest winning streak at 29 in a row. Scott County has also held four opponents to fewer than 10 points.

Highlands Offensive Coordinator Zach Deaton said the offensive line will again be a huge priority this season like it was last off-season. The big difference is the Bluebirds return more experience there next season.

"That's where consistency starts. It starts with the snap," Deaton said. "It starts with the linemen carrying out protection rules and block rules. If we don't have that first, then we can't have an offense."

Max Dierig (6-foot-3-inches), Brock Huber (6-0) and Dylan Turner (6-0) return on the offensive line. Only three-year returning starter Trent Johnson returned on the offensive line this year. Senior starter Will Salmon also graduated on the offensive line.

Grand re-opening, Dec. 7 & 8th! 

"I definitely think we'll be really good next year. We had ups and downs this year. For the most part, we had ups," Huber said. "We had a couple weeks where we struggled a little bit. Nothing is guaranteed. We have seniors, juniors and possibly sophomores that can take spots. I think the chemistry is going to be great. We've had no problems playing with these (returning players on all three levels). If it's all seniors, that's great. That means we've all been together for the most part, even guys in the grades below. Anything can work. We'll just have to wait and see who steps up."

The Bluebirds lose starting quarterback Grady Cramer in addition to several solid skill position players in running back Cooper Schwalbach and wide receivers Austin King and Nate Roberts. But a number of experienced running backs and wide receivers also return.

Junior Collin Hollingsworth saw some varsity playing time this year and enters the offseason as the leading candidate to take over at quarterback. He completed 12-of-25 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 163 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns averaging about 13.5 yards per carry. Hollingsworth came in and led the Bluebirds on a crucial touchdown drive in the 38-9 over Simon Kenton, which also finished 10-3.

"I think the sky is the limit," Deaton said. "The kids this year had great leadership from the kids that are seniors now. They know what it means to come in every day, go to work and focus on things they can control. I think they're going to continue to do that like this last group did. It's going to make us better each and every day."

Hollingsworth finished third on the team in rushing yards. The second leading rusher in sophomore Joe Buten returns after going for 537 yards on 83 carries and nine touchdowns averaging 6.5 yards per touch. Juniors Tyler Brune and Wes Bowling could also give the Bluebirds options in the backfield.

Juniors Adam Weyer, Hunter Ahlfeld, Ethan Houze and Joey Deshler will return at wide receiver. Ahlfeld led that group with 27 catches for 406 yards and six touchdowns.

"We will have to get on the same page with Collin," Weyer said. "But we have all summer to work on that. I'm more than confident in Collin as a quarterback. He's had two very successful JV seasons. He's really developed into a great quarterback these past two seasons. He's not afraid to tuck it and get the first down. If we call quarterback draws, that's another thing the defense has to worry about."

Weyer said the wide receivers will work on not only running solid routes and blocking, but also finding ways to get open all over the field. That could add more options to the Highlands Spread offense. He said it's hard for quarterbacks to see whether wide receivers are open or not in the middle of the field for example.

Highlands generally starts winter conditioning in January. Those workouts paved the way for the first 10-win season since 2014 this past season.

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