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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Highlands Builds on Solid Defensive 2018 Season

Bluebirds Aim for More Success in 3-5 Scheme

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior Sawyer Depp (27) and sophomore Bryson Cody (31) pursue the ball in a game against Greenwood in the fall.
Teams had problems moving the ball consistently against the 3-5 Highlands Bluebirds defense.

The only teams the Bluebirds lost to in the Covington Catholic Colonels twice and the Scott County Cardinals in their 10-3 campaign had some success offensively. Highlands had not recorded a double-digit win season since the 2014 Class 4A state championship team finished 13-2.

This will mark the third season Highlands will employ the 3-5 defense. The Bluebirds switched to it from the 3-4 after the 2016 season. Teams rushed for 1,939 yards and passed for 1,246 for averages of just more than 149 rushing and 96 passing per game.

Those marked huge improvements from the 2017 6-6 campaign. Teams rushed for 3,336 yards and passed for 1,482 for averages of 278 yards rushing and 123.5 passing per game.

A number of players return from last year. The leader is junior Brycen Huddleston, who has an offer from Eastern Michigan University. Huddleston had two quarterback sacks, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Huddleston returned a fumble for a touchdown at Lexington Catholic. Other returning linebackers include junior Mason Schwalbach and sophomore Mason South. Mason Schwalbach had three fumble recoveries.

"It feels pretty good," South said. "We have a lot of guys coming back from last year. We're working hard every day to be better than we were last year."

Sophomore Jason Noe and junior Jacob Brass lead Highlands in the secondary with juniors Conner Zell and Zach Lewin leading the Bluebirds on the defensive line. Lewin tied senior Alex Starkey for a team-high four sacks last year.

Highlands holds its final spring practice on Friday. The Bluebirds have used it to improve things like footwork and leverage defensively.

"Having a system in place is important but the most important thing are the guys in the system. It's a combination of the two. We're in a good spot with that," said Brian Weinrich, Highlands Head Coach. "We have a lot of guys who got a lot of snaps on varsity and JV, not just varsity experience. They understand what they're doing. We have a lot of guys committed to and being obsessed with the fundamentals of playing good defense."

Highlands trailed just 7-0 against Covington Catholic in the regional championship game. But the Colonels pulled away for a 36-0 victory in the second half. The Colonels finished state runner-up in Class 5A to South Warren. Weinrich saw a huge area of improvement watching the film from that game.

"Guys were trying to do too much and when you try to do too much, you won't do what your job is. If you watch the film and you don't understand the situation, it is frustrating because guys are jumping out of their gaps," Weinrich said. "Guys are over-pursuing. But when you take into consideration what the situation was, they're trying to go do something. You understand the situation. But at the same time regardless of the situation, we need to stay within ourselves and do what we're supposed to do for that particular game."

The first game for Highlands takes place on Aug. 23 at Scott. Game time is 7 p.m.

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