The Blue and White especially paid tribute to the 23 seniors. They helped guide the Bluebirds to their first 10-win season since 2014 and first appearance in the region championship since 2015.
The only three losses came to teams that played for state championships. Highlands lost twice to Covington Catholic and to Scott County. The Colonels lost 20-16 to South Warren in the Class 5A state championship and Scott County lost 37-20 to Louisville Male, coached by Highlands alum Chris Wolfe, in the Class 6A title game.
"It was absolutely awesome," said Zach Deaton, Highlands Offensive Coordinator. "They are a great group of kids, great leaders and they left a great example for the other classes behind them."
This marked the second year the Highlands defense utilized the 3-5 base formation and the experience showed. The Bluebirds limited opposing offenses to averages of just more than 149 rushing and just under 96 passing per game for a total average of around 245.
The Highlands defense recorded 18 quarterback sacks, recovered 21 fumbles and picked off 15 passes. Senior linebacker Jackson Hagedorn found himself at the top of the list with three sacks, a team-high four interceptions and one fumble recovery. He returned an interception for a touchdown against Ryle and returned a fumble for a score against Simon Kenton.
"It was an amazing feeling, especially to be involved in such a good defense that loved hitting hard and getting at the ball," Hagedorn said. "Just about every guy on defense had a hunger to get the ball in their hands at one point in the game or hit the ball carrier as hard as they could."
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On the defensive line were seniors Ben Sisson, Gavin Downard and Andrew Wyckoff that often disrupted offensive backfields. Sisson led the Bluebirds with four fumble recoveries and had two sacks. He also saw some time at tight end.
Four seniors played a big role in limiting big plays, especially in the deep part of the field. They are Bailey Armstrong, Addison Reynolds, Casey Greene and Kyle Turner. Greene had three interceptions and a fumble recovery with Reynolds recording one fumble recovery and one interception and Armstrong making an interception.
The Bluebirds averaged 307 yards per game offensively this year. They outscored opponents, 409-183 for averages of just more than 31-14. It started up front with senior offensive linemen Trent Johnson, Will Gastright and Will Salmon. Johnson started there for three seasons.
Senior quarterback Grady Cramer completed 166-of-291 passes for 2,024 yards, 21 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Cramer also rushed for 11 touchdowns.
Senior Cooper Schwalbach led the Bluebirds in rushing with 922 yards on 178 carries and 11 touchdowns despite teams consistently keying on him. Schwalbach also blocked and caught 19 passes for 173 yards.
"It's very important to be a versatile player in football," Schwalbach said. "Being able to do multiple things in your position will help your team out. I knew I had to be able to block for (sophomore) Joe (Buten) or the other running backs and even to keep Grady safe to get the ball into our receivers' hands."
Eight different wide receivers graduate for the Bluebirds. Senior Austin King led Highlands with 44 catches for 360 yards and two touchdowns. Nate Roberts led the Bluebirds with 722 yards and nine scores on 41 receptions.
Logan Guy, Carter Crawford, Eddie Etter and Liam Ehrman may not have played a lot. But they had their moments. Brady Walz and Tyler Bracken were not able to play this year because of injuries. But Walz did help the Highlands boys golf team to a region championship and eighth-place finish in the state tournament.