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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Highlands Once Again Loaded at Quarterback

Bluebirds Used Spring to Build Depth

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior quarterback Collin Hollingsworth (left) hands off to junior Tyler Brune (20) in warm-up prior to the win over Greenwood last fall. Hollingsworth stands next in line to start at quarterback for the Bluebirds in the fall.
As sophomores or juniors, they might have started at other places.

But every year since 2010 when Patrick Towles entered the season as the starting quarterback as a junior, a senior has entered the season as the starting quarterback for the Highlands Bluebirds football team. The big reason has to do with depth at the position and Highlands Offensive Coordinator Sam Umberg came out of spring practice on May 3 excited about that prospect this fall.

"We can go out and win a game with any of the guys we have right there," Umberg said. "It doesn't matter if they're in the first spot or the last spot. It's a testament to them and their hard work. They're completely bought in and it's showing out on the field."

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But quarterback is not the only spot where the Bluebirds are loaded on offense. Highlands returns a number of skill position players from last year's 10-3 region runner-up squad.

"Instead of having one or two guys in certain spots, we have guys all over the field who can make plays," Umberg said. "When we go against other defenses this fall, they're not going to be able to key on one guy because we have four guys out wide who are going to be catching passes and we got backs with a great quarterback in the backfield."

Collin Hollingsworth is expected to step into the starting quarterback role as a senior this fall after backing up Grady Cramer this past fall and make his own mark. Hollingsworth completed 12-of-25 passes this past season for 100 yards and a 4-yard touchdown in the first half against Simon Kenton. The touchdown pass came on 4th-and-goal.

The lefty may remind many of 2013 Highlands graduate Donovan McCoy. Hollingsworth was in the fifth grade in 2012 when McCoy led the Bluebirds to their state-record sixth consecutive state championship in Class 4A. At 6-feet-1-inches, Hollingsworth is taller than McCoy.

"It's really just me trying to take care of the rest of the guys," Hollingsworth said. "If they can trust me, I can trust them and put up numbers. That's how we're looking at it."

Hollingsworth demonstrated his ability to scramble last fall similar to what McCoy did in 2012. Hollingsworth rushed for 163 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns for an average of 13.5 yards per carry.

But opposing defenses had to worry about defending the entire field. Zach Harris, Colin Seidel and Jaylen Hayes also made plays out of the backfield and McCoy could also throw to the likes of Luke Turner, David Christian, Jac Collinsworth and Brandon Hergott.

"Moving around in the pocket is going to be one of our biggest things this year," Hollingsworth said. "We're going to have a lot of movement either naked or completely blocked. We're going to have confidence in our passing plays. It's just going to be a lot of what we've seen the past couple years built up."

Hollingsworth led the Highlands JV team to a 7-2 mark last year. He's been with the baseball team in the spring. But he built trust with his teammates on JV and has been mainly working on his footwork and becoming more familiar with defenses and route combinations with the wide receivers.

Last season marked the first time Highlands recorded a double-digit win season since the last of 23 state championships in 2014. But the Bluebirds struggled in two losses against Covington Catholic and Scott County because junior Adam Weyer said the wide receivers had problems breaking away from solid defensive backs.

Highlands returns a number of wide receivers led by junior Hunter Ahlfeld. Ahlfeld had 29 catches for 417 yards and six touchdowns. Hollingsworth hopes to be able to fit the ball in tight spaces to wide receivers.

"I think our receivers just need to be really aggressive and share what they're doing if they're running the right routes, if they're blocking the right guys," Hollingsworth said. "They have full confidence in what they're doing so even if they mess up, they can go fast."

Hollingsworth said he's excited about the up-tempo offense Umberg is installing this fall. He said it will be similar to final seasons when Dale Mueller was head coach. Those teams ran to the line of scrimmage once the play was dead and hiked the ball as quick as possible wearing down opponents.

"He is a great athlete, but he's a quarterback who happens to be an athlete, too," Umberg said of Hollingsworth. "He's not an athlete playing quarterback. He can run. We all know that, but he's looking to pass first trying and put our guys in the right position. He's already got a really good grasp of what we're going to try to accomplish. I think he's going to be outstanding."

Weyer played wide receiver last season catching 12 passes for 137 yards and a touchdown. But he has also worked out at quarterback. He's been working on his drops mainly in the off-season.

"I'm trying to understand how to play quarterback fundamentally first before I can understand the reads," Weyer said. "I'll be able to understand why that works and be able to develop that way."

Sophomore Jake Fahlbusch played wide receiver on JV last year. But he also worked out at quarterback in the spring. Like Hollingsworth, he wants to throw the ball better to complement his scrambling abilities including deep routes.

"It's incredibly tough for defenses when they have to cover the entire field," Fahlbusch said. "We have the offense to do it. We can complete the short (passes) every day of the week. It's a matter of throwing middle and long (routes)."

Freshman Isaac Surrey led the Highlands freshman team to a 7-3 mark last year. Surrey listed footwork, accuracy and reads as the main things he's been working on physically. He also wants to become more of a leader.

"It's really about reps. It's timing and all that," Surrey said of reads. "You have to know who you're throwing to, know where they can catch it, know where the defense is and put it in the right spot. Making the right reads is a big part of being a quarterback. If you don't make the right read, it could lead to a loss."

Highlands opens the season on Aug. 23 at Scott. Game time is 7 p.m.

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