Prep Football: Boyle coach French says Highlands is still loaded with talent
Boyle County junior Seph Burke (20) should get the bulk of the carries this year for the Rebels, who open the season Friday at 21-time state champion Ft. Thomas Highlands. (Clay Jackson / August 16, 2012)
“It’s a typical Highlands team. They’re going for six straight (state titles), and they’ve got as good a chance as everybody else,”¿said French, whose Rebels open the season at Fort Thomas on Friday. “Highlands is a great program, and we think we’ve got a good program and we’re going to go in there and play our first game and see how we do.
“We’re going into enemy territory, so that’s a challenge. And our whole season is going to be a challenge. But our kids are up for it and we’ll go up and play to the best of our ability and hopefully it will be good enough. And if it’s not, we’ll come back and work on things and try to get better.”
And while some of the names have changed for the Bluebirds, who go into the game having won 20 straight games and beat Boyle 35-14 in last year’s opener, the talent has not.
Senior Donovan McCoy takes over at quarterback for Towles, Kentucky’s Mr. Football in 2011. McCoy, a 6-1, 200 pounder, threw sparingly last year, going 18 of 38 for 452 yards and four touchdowns. He also caught a team-high 36 passes for 723 yards and seven scores and ran for 98 yards and seven more scores.
French said McCoy is a different kind of threat than Towles, but just as dangerous.
“He’s left-handed and he likes to sprint out and throw the ball deep,”¿French said. “And he’s got outstanding receivers who are fast and run good routes put a lot of pressure on your secondary. They’ve got a very capable rushing attack as well.”
Receivers Jac Collinsworth, a 6-3 senior, caught 26 passes for 494 and five touchdowns, and 6-2 senior Luke Turner had 30 grabs for 487 yards and four touchdowns. Zach Harris, a 5-10, 205-pound junior, is the leading returning rusher with 522 yards and eight touchdowns.
“Defensively, we’ve got some things to work on, and we have to go out just make sure we can control their offense,”¿said French, whose defense last year held Highlands to its second-lowest point total. “We’ve got to force them into situations where we can control what they do. If we can’t do that, and if we can’t stop the run, we’re going to be in trouble.”
So what French wants to see Friday is how his team reacts when adversity hits, which is almost guaranteed against a Highlands program that has won 21 state titles.
“Any time you play a good team, you have to look at it as you’re going to have mental mistakes, and turnovers are going to play a big part in whether you win or lose,”¿French said. “So we’ve got have people make plays.”
French said the Highlands defense was also typical, full of quick, strong players who get to the ball.
“They just kind of clone their people, and they’ve got people who run to the ball are extremely quick and play good defense in the secondary,” he said. “Their secondary gets a lot of hits because they play them so close to the line of scrimmage.”
And he expects his offense to get just as good a challenge as the Rebels’ defense.
“Offensively, our line has improved quite a bit from last season, but our skill people really have to come through for us,”¿he said. “We have a veteran at quarterback (senior Casey Whittle) and our receiving corps that we’re going to put out there for the first time has to make plays for us, and that’s going to be a challenge. We have a young backfield and they’re inexperienced, and we have to make sure we hold onto the ball and execute our offense.
“We have a lot of unanswered questions out there until we play and see how they do.”
But French has high expectations for his team, which boasts 18 seniors.
“The biggest things we have going for us is our seniors. And those seniors, this is their final year and they’ve worked hard and tried to become the leaders we want them to be, and they’ve improved greatly. And we’ve got to continue to improve and bring our young kids along.
“Hopefully, it’s our first game we’ll come out injury-free. That’s going to be a key for us all year.”