Friday, November 12, 1999

Highlands' Hamblen does it all

Enquirer contributor

        Just when you think you've seen everything Highlands junior Brett Hamblen can do on a football field, you see something else.

        Hamblen isn't the only reason the defending Class AAA state champion Bluebirds are 10-1 entering tonight's second-round playoff game against Harrison County, but he has been a force on both sides of the ball.

        “I've always liked defense,” Hamblen said. “I think it's fun when you don't know what the offense is going to do, and you react to the ball and try to hit people.”

        On offense, Hamblen has 44 catches for 863 yards, 10 touchdowns and a 19.6-yard average per reception. He also has amassed 520 return yards — including a kickoff return and a punt return for TDs — 1,544 all-purpose yards and 72 points.

        And Hamblen's contribution on defense? A Northern Kentucky-leading eight interceptions (259 yards returning them) and 83 tackles.

        “I don't really worry about my stats,” Hamblen said. “I just go out and help the team the best I can.”

        Ask Highlands coach Dale Mueller whether Hamblen is better as a wide receiver, defensive back or return specialist.

        “We go back and forth on that all the time, because colleges are always saying, "What do you picture him at?'” Mueller said. “And I picture him as a guy who can do both (offense and defense) and return punts and kicks. ... He just plays really well in all areas.”

        Hamblen, a Bellevue native, nearly always has played more than one position. As a member of the Bellevue Tigers youth teams until seventh grade, he was a quarterback, running back and receiver.

        Mueller said he saw Hamblen's potential during a pass-catching drill two years ago. He remembered Hamblen straining for a pass that was a bit long and having the balance to keep one foot in bounds.

        “He loves to play football; he studies it so well,” Mueller said. “Sometimes it looks to me like he's seen the game already, and he's just playing it back in slow motion.”

        A 61-yard TD catch on the last play of the first half in a 45-7 win over Covington Catholic was an example of Hamblen's versatility.

        Junior quarterback Gino Guidugli's pass was well short when Hamblen altered his route, outjumped Colonels Nick Beck and Blake Sabo for the ball at about the CovCath 30 and cut across the middle of the field to the end zone. The play gave Highlands a 24-7 halftime lead.

        “I'll have to see the film to see how he could do it,” Mueller said at the time.

        In the first half of a 24-6 beating of Dixie Heights, Hamblen recovered a fumble to kill a Dixie drive; took a pitch and completed a 21-yard pass that kept the Bluebirds' second drive alive, and ran a punt back 73 yards for the third TD. He also had six catches for 144 yards, two tackles and an interception in the half.

        Hamblen, meanwhile, remembers a second-quarter punt return against Elder on Sept.17 that set up a touchdown.

        “There was about four guys (covering),” Hamblen said. “I just cut through the middle of them. ... I returned it down to the (Elder) 4, and that set us up, and Gino went in for a quarterback sneak for a touchdown.”

        Hamblen just thinks of football as fun, the same attitude he'll have against Harrison County.

        “I just like going out and hitting people,” he said. “I like going out and trying to make big plays and trying to help our team win.”


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