Friday, November 26, 1999

Highlands linebackers leave mark

Enquirer contributor

        In a couple of ways, the Highlands linebackers are like orange barrels — they seem to pop up everywhere, and they usually end up stopping traffic.

        This year's Bluebird linebackers are the primary reason Highlands was able to shut down Dixie Heights long enough for the offense to build a 41-0 lead in last Friday's 41-24 win in the Class AAA regional finals.

        The victory set up today's state semifinal matchup with Lawrence County at 7:30 p.m. at Highlands.

        Three of Highlands' linebackers — 6-foot-3, 198-pound senior outside linebacker Frank Benton and juniors Brent Grover and Ben Freer — are returning starters from last year's team. They are joined in the starting lineup by 6-foot, 185-pound junior Mike Slawter.

        Benton and the 5-11, 185-pound Freer are outside linebackers, with Benton lining up on the “quick” or weak side and Freer playing the strong side. The 6-4, 230-pound Grover is the strong-side inside linebacker, and Slawter has settled in at weak side.

        “At the beginning of the season, Grover was playing the quick side, but they switched him to strong three or four games into the season,” Benton said. “He was quick all last year, too. It just seems to work better for us.

        “We can all move back and forth. We all switch around, depending on who we're playing.”

        Grover is the top talent, leading Highlands last year with 150 tackles.

        Having the confidence to shuffle spots says a lot for his teammates.

        “Each group of players, we try to play to their strengths,” coach Dale Mueller said. “Our defense changes each year based on the individual guys. This year's group allows us to be versatile. All four can play anybody man-to-man and cover all the way down the field. It allows us to blitz more and play more man-to-man.

        “They each have individual talents. They don't have to depend on what the other guy is doing. All four of those guys are fast, aggressive and intelligent football players.”

        The Bluebirds normally go six deep at linebacker, with 6-2, 190-pound junior Josh Adams backing up the outside spots and 5-11, 165-pound sophomore Nick Behymer filling in inside.

        “We always feel that we need six quality linebackers,” Mueller said. “We need six quality, fast, tough, aggressive linebackers.”

        This Bluebirds crew needed just one game — a 50-15 beating of Hancock County in the opener — to reach that level, Benton said.

        “At the beginning, we knew we were good, but we weren't sure how good,” Benton said. “We were kind of tentative. After that first game, we built a lot of confidence. We weren't tentative. We've gotten really aggressive.

        “We get to the ball. Everybody knows us by how fast our defense is. We just say, "Tackle the guy with the ball.'”

        Said Mueller: “This group really continues and enhances the tradition of linebackers at Highlands.”


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