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Thursday, April 2, 2020

Bluebirds Working without Spring Practice

No Spring Practice for Highlands for Just Second Time Since 1998

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior offensive lineman Jackson Roy (66) looks up-field after completing a block against Conner in the first round of the playoffs last season. Roy is one of two starters returning on the offensive line next season.

For only the second time since the Kentucky High School Athletic Association started allowing spring football practices in 1998, the Highlands Bluebirds will not be able to have it per KHSAA orders.

That is the boat every team in Kentucky finds itself in as a result of school closings from the spread of Coronavirus 2019. Highlands had it on the schedule for this month.

The other time Highlands could not have it came in 2015 as a result of the construction of the new locker rooms and the refurbishing of the turf on David Cecil Memorial Stadium. The Bluebirds still drove to the Class 5A state semifinals that fall.

While the Bluebirds are not able to practice at school as a team, Highlands Head Coach Brian Weinrich said the staff remains in contact with the players regarding workouts they can do on their own. The current dead period imposed by the KHSAA runs until at least April 20.

"I'm also looking at it from the human side. You have to do something. People have to stay active. (The players) had been going 90 miles an hour and it's slamming the breaks on them," Weinrich said. "We've been saying this to them for years. We'll do things in our workouts that we're doing this now and all you need is six feet of floor space. You don't a gym. You don't need any fancy equipment. We encourage them if you have a long weekend, are on vacation or have gone to grandma's for the weekend that you can still get a good workout. It's not what you do. It's how you do it. We're hoping that mindset that we've created for years that working out is a personal decision. Hopefully, they'll inspire someone in their household to get active and maintain some kind of sanity."

Not only that, the Highlands players continue to watch what they eat. In the past, they've said drinking water or Gatorade helps make sure players do not receive cramps during games in the early part of the season in the humid weather.

"There are certain apps on my phone I can use," said Jackson Roy, Highlands junior offensive lineman. "It will tell you how much grams of protein are in the vegetables you eat and the good types of vegetables."

Spring football is often used to find players for Friday Nights. With the graduation of 31 players from this past fall, Highlands will see a number of players move up from the junior varsity team that finished 5-4 last year and possibly from the 9-1 freshman team. But the team will have to find those guys different way.

"It's been a group effort this off-season in terms of evaluating what we have in terms of personnel," Weinrich said. "What have we done? What do we need to continue doing? What do we need to do in addition to and what do we need to stop doing? It's been a lot communication and a lot of ideas on what we need to do best. We have a plan ready for whenever we get started and that plan is going to have to be altered as each day goes by as learn more."

Highlands finished 6-5 last fall losing 38-28 to Conner in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Bluebirds outscored opponents, 280-159 for averages of between 25 and 26 points to between 14 and 15 points. Highlands shut out three opponents and was shut out twice.

Highlands rushed for 1,387 yards offensively and passed for 1,478 for averages of just more than 126 yards rushing and just more than 134 passing. The Highlands defense allowed 1,389 yards rushing and 1,443 passing for averages of just more than 126 rushing and just above 131 passing per game.

Junior linebacker Mason South and junior defensive back Jason Noe saw significant action from the start last season on defense. Sophomore defensive back Will Hartman along with junior defensive back Dominic Robinson and junior defensive lineman Vance Moore also saw a lot of time last season.

"I don't know if we're going to be the most talented team out there," Moore said. "But we're going to work the hardest and hit the hardest. I think we're ready for what's to come for sure."

The Highlands offense sees two starters on the offensive line return in Roy and sophomore Kaleb Kissee. Junior Jake Fahlbusch returns at quarterback after completing 6-of-14 passes for 23 yards and two touchdowns. Fahlbusch started the first game last year against Scott and played the entire second half of the regular season game against Conner.

Sophomore Griffin Richter is the leading returning rusher with 63 carries for 291 yards and a touchdown for an average of between four and five yards per carry. Sophomore Jacob Welch is the leading returning receiver with five catches for 93 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Patrick Clukey also saw significant time on varsity last year at wide receiver.

The Bluebirds received some tough news in the off-season offensively. Potent junior running back Joe Buten will not be able to play his senior year because of medical reasons.

Highlands will see a reverse in the schedule from last year in the second of two-year contracts. Scott, Simon Kenton, Boyle County, Cooper and Boone County will come to Fort Thomas and the Bluebirds will travel to Campbell County, Covington Catholic, Conner and Ryle.

Highlands will again play in the Cumberland Falls Pigskin Classic on Aug. 29. But the opponent will be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish out of Chattanooga (Tennessee) instead of Knoxville Catholic.

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