|Bluebirds Stick with Consistency in Off-Season|
|PHOTO: G. Michael Graham. The Highlands Football Team stretches during winter workouts on Wednesday.|
But after the Highlands Bluebirds football team lost 36-0 at Covington Catholic in the Class 5A, Region 3 championship game, Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich said a number of returning players have started weight training three days per week on a volunteer basis. That type of dedication has been a huge reason for the success the Bluebirds have enjoyed for a number of years.
"I don't think that's ever really been an issue here," Weinrich said. "The self-motivation that these guys have as a whole at Highlands is unique so we try to take advantage of that. We don't really have guys miss too often. When they're here, they really get after it. What we have to do is make sure we're doing the things that these guys in the room need to do to get better at what it is we need to get better at. You always want to get bigger, faster and stronger. It's just that every year, there's a couple of things you may want to focus a little more on than you did the year."
One huge aspect of the winter weights is building on small victories. A player might bench one weight one day then add five pounds on the next workout thus increasing individual strength.
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"You have to know what I did yesterday and I have to today find a way to do that better whether it's putting more pounds on the bench, whether it's doing a couple extra push-ups, whether it's stretching better," Weinrich said. "The second part of that as a group is motivating each other, supporting each other, critiquing each other, coaching each other and encouraging each other saying, 'Hey, I know you did five reps there. I know you could have done more' and getting that guy excited about doing more on the next reps so he'll get stronger and compete with himself. We're not competing with each other in terms of worrying about if I'm benching more than you because we're too different people, but we're competing with each other in terms of motivating each other and getting each other better."
The Bluebirds are coming off a 10-3 season. That marked the first double-digit win season since the last of 23 state championships in 2014.
Highlands switched to a 3-5 defensive scheme before the 2017 season and the experience payed off last year. The Bluebirds limited opponents to 183 points, 1,938 yards rushing and 1,246 passing for averages of just more than 14 points, 149 yards rushing and just under 96 yards passing per game.
"I think the thing we do best is stay consistent with what we do starting it as a freshman, figuring it out as a sophomore, getting better at it as a junior and hopefully by the senior year, they're mastering it," Weinrich said. "That was really the difference last year than the year before and the year before is we had a lot of people playing that had played a lot (on varsity) the year before. We have a lot of those guys coming back again. There were guys that got to play. It was their first time out there. They now have to take those experiences and get better at it. The goal with every high school team is to get the guys that are out there ready as fast as possible because you're going to replace a lot of guys."
Junior defensive linemen Conner Zell and Zach Lewin return. The linebackers will be led by juniors Brycen Huddleston, Mason Schwalbach, Brennan Haigis. Sophomore Jason Noe leads the way with the defensive backs. Zell said these workouts build bonds that help when the season starts.
"One big thing is we really have to play fast as usual like we did last year because when we played fast, we played better," Zell said. "We just trusted our instincts and didn't overthink things. I think that we can build upon what we had last year with quite a bit of returning juniors and become a great defense and maybe even a better defense if it's possible."
Highlands scored 409 points and put up 2,132 yards passing and 1,859 yards rushing for averages of nearly 31.5 points, exactly 164 passing and 143 rushing per game. The Bluebirds will return three starters on the offensive line in Max Dierig, Brock Huber and Dylan Turner. They only returned one starting offensive lineman last year.
"So far, we've had a really good start," Dierig said. "We have a lot of guys coming back so I don't see how much is going to change much from last year. The main way we want to help out this year is get our techniques better."
Junior Collin Hollingsworth is expected to take over at quarterback. The leading returning rusher is sophomore Joe Buten and junior Hunter Ahlfeld is the leading returning wide receiver. Junior wide receiver Adam Weyer said a focus for wide receivers this off-season will be finding ways to break away from good secondaries.
Highlands will do these workouts until spring practice rolls around. The Bluebirds open the season at Scott on Aug. 23. Game time is 7 p.m. Highlands last played Scott in 2010.
2019 Schedule Updates:
Weinrich confirmed eight games have been scheduled. They are working out some other details, but hope to have things finalized in a matter of days.
Aside from Scott, the Bluebirds also have the contracts signed for games against Ryle, Campbell County, Boyle County and district opponents Conner, Cooper, Covington Catholic and Boone County. Highlands last played Conner in 2006 and Boone County in 2012.