Success begets success, the old saying goes, and in Northern Kentucky athletics this is true with Highlands football more so than anywhere. On Friday night, the Bluebirds will host Boyd County (5-5) to begin their quest for a sixth consecutive state title.
"We've got to win one game at a time, and there's a lot of good teams to play along the way," said head coach Dale Mueller. Mueller has orchestrated 10 of Highlands' 20 football championships, so to say he has perspective on the matter is an understatement.
"Pressure in sports is substantially overdone," he said, when asked if the pressure to repeat builds year after year. "These seniors were in middle school when all that started, so they're just focused on this season."
"A friend of mine is a surgeon, he's cutting people's chest open in life or death situations - that's pressure. I've got former players who are wearing helmets that aren't for football, and they've got people shooting at them - that's pressure."
"We're playing a game, and it's fun," he added.
It would be hard not to have fun playing or coaching for a team that averages almost 54 points per game, as the Bluebirds have done this season. Highlands scored over 60 points in a game four times, including a whopping 70 points against Holmes on Oct. 5. They also compiled a 9-1 regular season record, with the lone loss coming to Cincinnati powerhouse Elder.
Depth is the main strength for this Highlands squad, Mueller said.
"We have so many good players, it helps us to play guys one way and keep guys fresh," he said. "The tackles, catches and carries are spread out so guys feel more fresh right now. For us, if a guy gets banged up, we can give him a extra week after the doctor clears him to get him healthy."
"When you have guys who play both ways, I don't care who you are - you're sore right now," he added.
The depth starts with senior quarterback Donovan McCoy, who has thrown for 1,949 yards and 26 touchdowns. He's also rushed for 579 yards and another 11 touchdowns. The Bluebirds have five players who have rushed for more than 200 yards and 12 players with 8 or more receptions this season.
Junior Zach Harris leads the Bluebirds ground attack, with 736 yards on 89 carries, and he has found the end zone 15 times. The top receiver for the Bluebirds is senior Luke Turner, who has 26 catches for 515 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Despite going 1-3 in their district, coach Mueller said Boyd County would not be an easy opponent. "They've got really good offensive and defensive linemen," he said. "They play a lot of guys both ways."
The Lions of Boyd County will make the trip up the AA Highway to play at Highlands Friday at 7:30 p.m.