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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Highlands Learning New Standard in Spring Football with Sphire

Bluebirds Experimenting Players on Both Sides

PHOTO: Ed Harber. Highlands junior Eli LaFrange (21) makes a move in the playoff win at Conner last season.

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Highlands Bluebirds Head Football Coach Bob Sphire said Spring Ball was about setting the standard.

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Highlands held Spring practices under the new head coach from April 14 through April 30. Sphire will also be the Defensive Coordinator. He's coached on the offensive side before. But defense is his primary background that includes two years coaching inside linebackers at Western Kentucky University as a graduate assistant.

"It took a little while to develop the kind of practice habits that we want," Sphire said. "But I felt like after a few days of our practice format that the players, coaches started to understand our tempo and the way we go about our business."

Highlands will continue to run a Spread offense and 3-4 defense primarily mixed in with some 4-3 looks. He is aware that people think no-huddle in games when it comes to tempo. But that also means how fast and intense teams practice in his eyes.

"That's been a transition that's been sorely needed here that I think they understand much better now," Sphire said. "They've gotten a lot more reps in practice than maybe they would have in the past."

Following practices, Sphire said the coaching staff spent an hour in film sessions pointing out the good and the bad. Sphire said he believes that is how players learn.

"That's something that the kids are eating up. They're loving it,"
Sphire said. "Those film sessions immediately after practice for an hour have been the most valuable change and it's been good for all the coaches that are new working with me, too because they don't know I want it done. They don't know exactly what verbiage I might use to correct someone on a play as well as you don't get to go home without your lack of effort being called out as a player. If on video you didn't block down on the goal line, the video doesn't lie. You can't hide from the video. So I think the players' accountability to the effort and the expectation of how you practice in order to carry it over to the game has been greatly enhanced because address those things before we ever send them home."

A huge source of debate within the community in recent years has been whether players should two-platoon like Highlands did for a while or go both ways like Highlands did more of the past two years. Sphire said the Bluebirds do not have the roster size to two-platoon for now. He'd like to have 22 starters with the ability to put the best 11 players on the field at any time.

"We're cross-training everybody," Sphire said. "We'll eventually lead to where we identify certain players that will develop best if they only practice one side of the ball. But right now, we want to evaluate everybody. There are guys the previous staff saw better served being an offensive guy and we might see them as a defensive guy or vise versa."

Sphire kept a number of assistant coaches from the previous staff. They are working on both sides of the ball, but they have their primary spots. Scott Turner, Senior and Scott Turner, Junior are again working with the offensive line. Ryan Leopold is working with the safeties. Zach Deaton is working with the running backs and Mike Welch is working with the outside linebackers. Mark Dill and Ryan Mahoney are working with the defensive line.

"It helps because they kind of know us personally and we kind of know the drills we used to do although we have a lot of new ones," Highlands sophomore Adam Dunn said of the returning coaches. "You just have to know every day is going to be a challenge. But in the end, it will be worth it under those lights Friday night doing what you can to win each game."

Hayden Sphire came up with his father from the staff at Camden County (Georgia) to become the offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. But a number of the new assistant coaches have been involved with the program in different ways in the past from helping out financially to coaching in the youth leagues. Kris Nevels will coach the cornerbacks along with Dave Bibb, who is also helping out with the tight ends. Casey Thomas is the special teams coordinator and Mick Abner will coach the linebackers and tight ends. Current baseball assistant Andy Raaker will be in charge of the football operations and equipment.

"I think in general most of the coaches that were already here and coaches that I'm going to have on staff in general are going to be teachers first. Part of teaching is learning these young men, what makes them tick and what drives them. Each individual is little bit different,"
Bob Sphire said. "The coach's job is to find those buttons to push that fit that kid. But at the same time, you're going to have general standards. I just always believe honesty is the best approach. If a young man is not executing something at a skill level that you want, then you have to teach the skill. That's usually done through example and repetition. Now if it is an effort issue, that's a whole different challenge. We're going to do everything we can to help a young man mature and to develop the desire. But there's always limits to that. That's something a player eventually has to decide that he buys into for himself. But I expect my coaches to be positive. I expect my coaches to be a player developing unit. That's what high school football coaches are. They're in the player-developing business."

Five players including Harris and Dunn played on the state championship boys basketball team along with freshman Brody Benke, sophomore Sam Robinson and sophomore Charlie Noon. Harris played wide receiver last year. They understand the importance of strong work ethics.

"Coach Sphire talks a lot about building off the basketball team," Harris said. "We just have to work hard so we can win games in December this year. We're just taking whatever Coach tell us and we're buying in. Hopefully, we get the results that we want."

Highlands opens the season Aug. 21 against the defending Class 5A champion Bowling Green Purples at LT Smith Stadium on the campus of Western Kentucky University. Game time is 5 p.m.

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