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2019 Prep Football Preview: Highlands linebacker returns as centerpiece of experienced defense

The NKyTribune is featuring each of the 21 high school football teams in Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties leading up to the first games of the 2019 season on Aug. 23. We will then provide focused coverage of our local teams throughout the regular season and into the playoffs.

By Terry Boehmker
NKyTribune sports reporter

When the Highlands defensive unit stops an opponent on a third-down play, linebacker Brycen Huddleston doesn’t always trot over to the sidelines to take a break and chug down some water.

Huddleston usually stays on the field because he returns punts and kickoffs for the Bluebirds. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior looks forward to running with the ball and scored three touchdowns on special teams last season.

Highlands linebacker Brycen Huddleston makes a diving stop on a ball carrier during last year’s win over Lexington Catholic. (Photo by Allen Ramsey / DWCphoto.com)

“Defense, I love. I just want to go out there and hit someone,” Huddleston said. “The other part of football I love is special teams. It’s just one of those things where I love having the ball in my hands and showing what I’m able to do.”

This will likely be the last season Huddleston gets to return punts and kickoffs. College coaches recruited him as a linebacker and he accepted a scholarship offer from Eastern Michigan University to play that position.

This will be his third year at middle linebacker for Highlands. The team didn’t post defensive statistics at the end of last season, but head coach Brian Weinrich is pretty sure that Huddleston was the Bluebirds’ leading tackler.

“It means everything when you have a really good player returning, especially at a position like that,” Weinrich said. “In our defense, middle linebacker is really the centerpiece of it all.”

The coach said six experienced defensive players are returning from last year’s 10-3 team that lost in the third round of the Class 5A playoffs. In eight of the victories, the Bluebirds held their opponent to nine points or less.

“Our defense did really good against a lot of teams, and this year I feel like it’s going to be 100 times better just because we’ll have a lot of seniors playing,” Huddleston said. “Everybody is going to be more comfortable because we’ve played together so long. It’s second nature how we talk and communicate.”

Brycen Huddleston

Huddleston’s name is appearing on pre-season watch lists for all-state candidates. He’s ranked among the state’s top 25 seniors by 247sports.com and only one player ahead of him is listed as a linebacker.  

“There’s some guys that you coach who make you look really smart because they’ve got instincts that other guys don’t have,” Weinrich said. “On top of those instincts, Brycen is very smart and he’s extremely athletic. He’s got good feet, good hands, good vision, all the things you need to be in the middle.”

The Bluebirds have several returning offensive linemen, but last year’s starting quarterback, leading rusher and top pass receiver all graduated. Huddleston said there’s a chance he might take some snaps at wide receiver this season in addition to playing linebacker and returning punts and kickoffs.

As a senior team leader, he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make Highlands a contender for a state title once again. The last time the Bluebirds brought home a championship trophy was 2014.

“Highlands has a great tradition and we’ve kind of swayed away from it the past few years by making it to the playoffs and then losing,” he said. “I feel like that should be a goal for me and for all of us, because this will be setting the bar for future Highlands teams.”

Huddleston knows you have to have a strong will to achieve any goal. He learned that from his mom, Tera, who was diagnosed with colon cancer twice and won the battle both times.

“My mom is easily one of the most influential people in my life,” he said. “Even without her going through all that stuff, I knew she was strong. But having to see firsthand every day what she had to deal with, that’s what I knew I had to be like. No matter what, you have to put your best effort into everything.”

2018 SEASON:  10-3 record, lost in third round of Class 5A playoffs.
DISTRICT:  Class 5A, District 5 with Boone County, Conner, Cooper, Covington Catholic.
HEAD COACH:  Brian Weinrich (40-25 in five seasons at Highlands).

Aug. 23 – at Scott, 7 p.m.
Aug. 31 – vs. Knoxville Catholic (Tenn.) at Corbin, 5:30 p.m.
Sept. 6 – CAMPBELL COUNTY, 7 p.m.
Sept. 13 – at Simon Kenton, 7 p.m.
Sept. 20 – RYLE, 7 p.m.
Sept. 27 – at Boyle County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 4 – CONNER, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 – at Boone County, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 – COVINGTON CATHOLIC, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 – at Cooper, 7:30 p.m.

Other NKyTribune prep football previews:


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One Comment

  1. Linda says:

    High School football is such a great experience in the NKY area!

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