FORT THOMAS – The 2013 season brought major changes to Highlands High School’s football program. The Bluebirds’ streak of seven straight KHSAA state titles was snapped with a loss in the championship game. Longtime head coach Dale Mueller retired after 20 seasons. Yet, entering 2014, optimism abounds.
Former defensive coordinator Brian Weinrich takes the reins from Mueller and is poised to lead Highlands back to the Class 4A state title.
“Obviously, the biggest difference is the retirement of Coach Mueller,” said Weinrich. “We lost a phenomenal senior class last year as well as the greatest high school coach in Kentucky history.”
The biggest on-field challenge will be replacing an offensive line that graduated 12 seniors. Kyler Dalton, Evan Richardson, and Bo Hebel will lead the new-look line. They will be charged with protecting Beau Hoge, the latest in a long line of talented Highlands quarterbacks.
“We are looking for Beau to have a breakout year and lead the offense,” said Weinrich. “He is the catalyst that will make the offense go.”
Hoge will look often in the direction of wide receiver Alex Veneman. Cashel Coughlan, Justin Weyer, and tight end Jack Telek will serve as additional receiving threats. Nick Kendall, Griffin Urlage, and Josh Watson will share carries out of the backfield.
The defense is even more experienced, led by linebackers Brady Murray, Rocco Pangallo, and Patrick Schoepf and defensive backs Austin Abner and Kyle Martin. The seniors realize that it is their turn to carry on the 100-year tradition of Bluebirds football.
“As with any team that accomplishes the goals it sets, there must be leadership from all seniors,” said Weinrich. “It is their team and they must take ownership. There are several guys with varsity experience that will need to lead us early.”
The head coaching transition has been smooth so far. The senior leadership will be critical to Highlands’s goal of reclaiming the state title. The Bluebirds should play the 2014 season with a chip on their shoulder. If they can put together another prolific offense coupled with an improved defense, they should be able to reach their goal.
“These guys have a tremendous work ethic and have done everything we asked them to do,” said Weinrich. “We want to continue to get better every day and stay focused on the ultimate goal.”
The Bluebirds open the season on Aug. 29 against Campbell County.
Aug. 29: At Campbell County
Sept. 5: At Bryan Station, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12: Vs. John Hardin, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20: Vs. Paducah Tilghman, 3 p.m.
Sept. 26: Vs. Covington Catholic
Oct. 3: At Harrison County
Oct. 11: Vs. Christopher Columbus, 1 p.m.
Oct. 17: At Holmes
Oct. 24: Vs. Elder, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31: At Warren Central, 8 p.m.
All games 7 p.m. unless noted