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Friday, February 19, 2021

New Highlands Head Football Coach Working to Put Solid Staff Together

Hayden Sphire Hopes to Relate to Players Not Far-Removed From Playing Days

Facebook Photo. New Highlands Head Football Coach Bob Sphire talks to son Hayden Sphire during their days at North Gwinnett High School (Georgia). Hayden Sphire is the new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

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New Highlands Head Football Coach Bob Sphire listed two pressing needs when he arrives in Fort Thomas on March 1.

One is putting together a solid staff. He started the process by hiring son Hayden Sphire as the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

Hayden Sphire said he's mostly excited about the tradition at Highlands. The Bluebirds own 23 state championships, which is the most among public schools. Hayden Sphire lived in Kentucky until he was 10. He recalled coming to Fort Thomas in 2005 when Lexington Catholic beat the Bluebirds, 17-0 in the Class AAA region championship game on its way to the state championship.

"Highlands was rocking when (the Bluebirds) were a powerhouse throughout my childhood," Hayden Sphire said. "It was an incredible atmosphere (in 2005). I love the expectations that they have to win championships. That's what we're going for."

Hayden Sphire quarterbacked the North Gwinnett (Georgia) Bulldogs to a runner-up finish in Georgia's largest Class AAAAAAA in 2013. He threw for 2,639 yards and 34 touchdowns with 14 interceptions that season. He earned a first-team all-county selection and all-state honorable mention that year before spending two seasons at Murray State. After the 2015 season, he transferred to the University of Georgia to focus on his academics.

Hayden Sphire has two years of coaching experience under his belt. He served as quarterbacks coach on his dad's staff at Camden County (Georgia) last year after serving as community coach on staff in 2019. During 2019 while finishing up his schooling at Georgia, he'd drive five hours on Thursdays to coach games, then drive back through the weekend.

Hayden Sphire will be working with dynamic sophomore quarterback Charlie Noon. Highlands has run the Spread offense for years and that will continue with the new coaching staff. Hayden Sphire at 25 years young is not far removed from his high school and college playing days so he hopes to relate to the returning quarterbacks in Noon, freshman Brody Benke and the other players.

"I think my age definitely gives me an advantage in terms of forming relationships with the players," Hayden Sphire said. 

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"The players (at Camden County) are incredibly comfortable in talking to me about much more than football. But I think having a close relationship with them and then having the recent experience of playing, I think they are more apt to kind of take what I'm telling them or trying to teach them and kind of understanding. There are great (older) coaches. But someone who's far-removed from the game trying to explain to them how to beat an athletic DB (defensive back) off of the line, I've witnessed that with some phenomenal football players recently. All the new techniques being introduced to football daily, I'm up to date on all of those trying to teach the players the best ways to win all their one-on-one battles."

Out of the read-option, Noon rushed for 1,089 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. He also passed for 926 yards and nine touchdowns. The Bluebirds rushed for 1,933 yards and passed for 1,032 for averages of just under 176 and 94 yards respectively.

"For me personally, it will be a bigger step up because it will be more passing," Noon said. "But I know I'm going to be running still. They've told me that because that is the strength of my part of the game. But I'm really excited to see how it is."

As far as the other positions go, Bob Sphire will interview some of the Highlands assistant coaches from last year. Some members of that staff have taken assistant positions at other schools.

Defensively, Bob Sphire's teams have traditionally run three-man fronts. The Bluebirds ran the 3-5 base defense the last four seasons.

"Obviously, that's the most critical hire is who I decide to put in place as the defensive coordinator because I need to let that guy work and I'm going to need a guy who I trust to do the work," Bob Sphire said.

"To me philosophically, we like to play fast. We like to play up-tempo and people interpret that offensively. But I think it has to go hand in hand. Whoever is going to be our defensive coordinator is a guy who is going to make things happen. We're going to create turnovers. We're going to create chaos in the backfield. We're going to wreak havoc and take teams out of their tempo and make them uncomfortable. I know this first year of transition, we may not play as fast as we'd like. We may not have all the schemes with all the bag of tricks you can pull out at key times. It may take a bit of time. But the goal is to have all those things in place."

Highlands allowed 1,896 yards rushing and 1,118 yards passing for averages of just above 172 rushing and just below 102 passing this past season. The Bluebirds finished 5-6 losing 38-21 at Covington Catholic in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs last year.

"Whatever it is, I think we'll be able to pick it up real fast if it's slightly different," said Ivan Roller, Highlands junior defensive lineman. "But I think having a base is definitely going to help a lot. (It's a matter) of being more active toward the ball and having more players be willing to run through anything and play for the next guy to them trying to make a play. As soon as you do that, everything starts to work. That's how you win ballgames."

Bob Sphire is as much of a believer in not becoming an entrenched coach as many coaches. He was the national liason for the Georgia Football Coaches Association.

"If you cut me open, a football is probably going to come flopping out," Bob Sphire said. "I was the guy going to the national meetings at the FCA, sitting at the table with the state representatives from Texas, from Alabama, from Oregon, from across the country. I was a camp rat for 25 years. I worked camps from all over the country.

The NCAA has taken that away. I look at a young coach who should be doing all those things right now, building that network and learning from those coaches. That is a huge mistake. Fortunately, I'm still one of those guys that just about ever coach in the country knows. So when it comes to recruiting, I still have a great network. But that's going to go away over the next several years because of the rulings the NCAA has made. I expect Highlands to support me in those development opportunities."

The second pressing need Bob Sphire listed is getting to know the returning players. He will be in the Highlands Field House at 6:30 a.m. March 1. He will be there to help the kids get work in before school then return after school from 3 to 4:30 p.m.

"I want to see what kind of work habits those kids have. I want to see who the self-starters are," Bob Sphire said. "I want to start getting a feel for who the leaders are. I want to get a feel for who's coachable. If for whatever reason, baseball gets forced inside because of the weather, they have first priority. But that doesn't mean we can't chalk talk or video review somewhere. They can progress in so many ways."

Sphire said he's already reached out to key members of the community. That includes former Highlands Head Coach Dale Mueller and Head Baseball Coach Jeremy Baioni.

"I may not be there in person right now, but I'm already there mentally," Bob Sphire said. "We're already working to get things in line."

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association has stated there will be spring football this year. It normally starts after basketball season ends.

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