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Fort Thomas community embraces new Highlands football head coach with impressive turnout Sunday

By Don Owen
NKyTribune sports editor

Eddie James is keenly aware of the championship tradition associated with Highlands football. After all, the Bluebirds have won 23 state championships, which is second only to Louisville Trinity’s 27 titles.

And if James needed any confirmation about the support and passion of the Fort Thomas community for the football program, he received it Sunday afternoon prior to his first press conference as the new Highlands head coach.

Highlands head coach Eddie James speaks to the media at his introductory press conference. (Photo by Don Owen)

Fans, players and students — all wearing Highlands blue and white — lined the hillside road leading down to the Highlands Fieldhouse. All of them were present to greet James and his family — and they made a great first impression on the former Franklin County head coach.

“I love it. I want people that care,” James said. “Riding down here and seeing the outpouring of the community is important. They want a good product. They want their kids to be successful at football, and I have no doubt they want their kids to be successful at life.”

James is considered one of Kentucky’s top football coaches and has built Franklin County into a Class 4A power. He led Franklin County to a 9-2 record this fall. The Flyers advanced to the Class 4A state championship game and dropped a 31-28 decision in overtime to Boyle County.

The previous week, Franklin County stunned defending Class 4A state champion Johnson Central by a 20-12 score on the road in Paintsville. Franklin County also collected a 42-6 win at perennial powerhouse Louisville Central in the second round of the playoffs this season.

James was asked about his offensive philosophy at Franklin County, and what he expects to bring to Highlands.

“We based most of our stuff out of a spread scheme, but we’re going to base what we do based on who we have,” James said. “This year, we had a 240-pound tight end and a 230-pound tight end. We used tight ends this year. It’s going to be based on what we have in this program.”

At Franklin County, James helped develop quarterback Nick Broyles into one of the state’s best players. Broyles passed for 2,371 yards and 27 touchdowns this season. He completed 149 passes in just 205 attempts during the virus-altered 2020 campaign.

Eddie James, family members and assistant coaches celebrate Franklin County’s regional championship victory over Allen County-Scottsville this season. (Photo by Hannah Wynn)

What about a two-platoon system?

“If a kid is the best running back and the best linebacker, he’s going to play (both),” James said. “(At Franklin County) we played the best players we felt were available. If we felt like it was a tie (in talent), we would start one on each side (of the ball) just to give us that depth.”

James owns a 35-12 record in four seasons as the head coach at Franklin County. He led the Flyers to a 10-3 record in 2018, followed by an 11-1 mark in 2019. Franklin County’s only defeat in 2019 was an 18-7 setback to Louisville Central in the second round of the Class 4A state playoffs.

James inherits a Highlands program that finished 5-6 this past season. He replaces Brian Weinrich, who compiled a 51-36 record in seven seasons as the Bluebirds head coach.

James actually competed against Highlands while playing at Franklin County during both the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The Bluebirds eliminated the Flyers in the Class 3A state playoffs both years. James is a 2005 graduate of Franklin County.

He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky and teaches special education. James received his Rank 1 in Special Education from University of the Cumberlands.

Don Owen is sports editor of the Northern Kentucky Tribune. Contact him at don@nkytrib.com and follow him on Twitter at @dontribunesport.

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