Things are changing in Webster County. Enrollment at the high school is down, dropping the Highlanders to Class A in 2016. But with 40 athletes on the roster, head coach B.J. Phillips says the program is accomplishing its goal of adding depth.
“I think with this senior class, this is the first class where all of the kids that should be playing football, are out playing football, and a lot of schools can’t say that,” said Phillips, who enters his second season in his second stint as head coach.
Those seniors will lead a young Highlanders squad, which features six rising sophomores who started games as freshmen. Senior leaders say the team’s goal is to produce the school’s first winning season since 2008.
“Last year, a lot of us got hurt. We couldn’t stay healthy, we couldn’t stay in the game mentally,” said cornerback Hunter Hamrick. “But I believe this year, if we stay healthy and we stay together as a team, we can make it to the playoffs this year with this team.”
The Highlanders pride themselves on defense, and returning players say experience will make them better on that side of the ball.
“Defensively it’ll help us a lot because we’ll be able to read the offenses better,” said safety Chase Rose.
But while the Highlanders work each day to improve on the field, they also continue to assist surrounding neighborhoods still recovering from recent flooding.
Several football players put their offseason workouts on hold to team up with local volunteer fire departments and lend a hand.
“This community here, they come out and support us every Friday night, even though we haven’t had the best seasons,” said Rose. “I just think we need to show it back to them and help them out.”
The Highlanders open at Richwood, another school and community affected by flooding. Players can’t wait for that rivalry game, because they say football could provide a much needed release for their community.
“A lot of people come out to watch our games, it’s kind of the thing to do on Friday nights,” said linebacker Colin Young. “You can kind of get away from everybody’s lives – all the floods and damages and stuff – so I think that could be one of the things that helps.”
The battle for the Wagon Wheel is Aug. 26.