Three days after the season ended, returning members of the Highlands Bluebirds football team met for the first voluntary workout Monday morning at the Highlands Field House.
Highlands Offensive Coordinator Hayden Sphire tweeted that 25 to 30 players showed up. The coaching staff knows the team needs to catch up to opponents in the weight room. Head Coach Bob Sphire said the Bluebirds were behind there when he took the job in March and it showed against the tougher opponents.
Covington Catholic used that advantage up front to pull away for a 38-8 win in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs. The Colonels are again playing in the third round of the playoffs at Woodford County on Friday. They put up 369 yards rushing on the Bluebirds led by senior running back Reid Hummel with 154 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown for an average of between eight and nine yards per carry and senior quarterback Preston Agee with 144 yards on 21 carries and three touchdowns for an average of between six and seven yards per touch.
Hayden Sphire listed goals for players to reach to be good high school football players. They are 215 to 225 pounds on the bench press, 315 on squats and 225 on power cleans. But the Bluebirds ultimately want to see the Bluebirds put up bigger numbers to return to the championship caliber status seen in the past. That will allow players to step on college campuses and not miss a beat.
"But that's a process," Hayden Sphire said. "It's not going to happen overnight. We might not even get there this year. Now, we'll get closer this year."
The Highlands Bluebirds basketball team partnered with Nevels Fitness aiding the way to the first state championship in program history in April. Highlands football Head Coach Bob Sphire announced the Bluebirds will do the same.
Bob Sphire said there are several aspects to building the team in the offseason. The biggest one is team building. That goes beyond the sweet equity involved with morning workouts.
"The approach is going to be really dynamic," Bob Sphire said. "That's where you get to know each other. You get to trust each other. You get to really analyze your strengths or weaknesses. What makes them tick. What their moods are like. What their personalities are like."
Bob Sphire said the setting at Nevels Fitness will give the Bluebirds access to a lot of high tech equipment. He noted Nevels Fitness will be training a variety of athletes.
"In a year-round plan, you can hit plateaus. You can hit some staleness," Bob Sphire said. "You can kind of get too familiar with each other in a sarcastic kind of way. That gives them freshness. They're hearing different voices. They're doing different routines. I think variety is really important."
Bob Sphire said the main goal of this offseason will be to add weight onto the players. He is aware some of that needs to turn into quality weight moving into the season. There will not be a ton of movement training this offseason. While Bob Sphire said the Bluebirds may be about 18 months away from having everything fully implemented, the team will make up so much ground with the collaborative effort with Nevels Fitness.
The Bluebirds allowed 1,932 yards rushing and 1,367 passing for averages of between 175 and 176 rushing and just more than 124 passing per game. Highlands did improve on tackling as the season progressed. That led to a huge 35-7 win at Cooper to conclude the regular season.
"We just need to start executing those tackles in games," said Carson Shelton, Highlands sophomore defensive lineman. "Coach Sphire did a great job acknowledging that was our big problem. He's just been getting us better at gator rolling, following through on tackles."
The Bluebirds struggled with the running game this year. putting up 1,132 yards this year for an average of just less than 103 per game. Junior Charlie Noon led the way rushing for 660 yards on 115 carries and six touchdowns for an average of between five and six yards per carry. Hayden Sphire said it did not help they felt they found a running back then he'd get hurt. Sophomore running game Cam Giesler played in the playoff game.
"We weren't able to roll people off the ball as well as we should be," Hayden Sphire said. "A lot of it has to do with pure athletic strength. Athletically, I think we're right there with anybody."
Highlands returns some players on their lines next year. That includes juniors Adam Bowman and Carson Schwalbach on the offensive line and junior TreVaughn Woods on the defensive line.
"One thing we need to do is get (better) push off the ball. A lot of times, we're pushing the (defensive) linemen and we're getting off them," Bowman said. "But we were staying stalemated. That can work. But it's not going to consistently get your four, five yards every game. If we can move them back two, three yards every play, we're going to get a bunch of yards and our run game is going to be dominant."
Bob Sphire said the schedule will pretty much be the same as 2021 entering the second of two-year contracts with the games taking place at opposite sites. The Bluebirds will play South Warren in the Rafferty's Bowl at Western Kentucky University to open the season instead of Bowling Green. They will also play another opponent instead of Cincinnati McNicholas.