Local teams did not want to play the vaunted Highlands Bluebirds football team. Thus, Highlands had at least one four-hour trip for a road game in each of the past two years. The Bluebirds ventured 5.5 hours to Paducah Tilghman in 2013 and four hours to Warren Central to conclude last year's regular season.
But that will not be the case this season as the longest road trip will be down Interstate 75 to Scott County. Highlands will face seven teams from Kentucky's northern three Boone, Kenton and Campbell Counties for the first time in the regular season since 2010.
Highlands and Covington Catholic moved up to Class 5A this year after spending the last four years in 4A. The Bluebirds will not see anyone in lower classes. Their seven non-district games come against 6A schools.
"These guys know each other," said Brian Weinrich, second-year Highlands Head Coach. "We're a Northern Kentucky team. We're excited about playing a Northern Kentucky schedule and getting a feel for each other. It's going to make us feel more a part of Northern Kentucky."
The Bluebirds will not play an out-of-state opponent this year for the first time since 2003. At least one Ohio team had been on the schedule the past 11 seasons. The only two losses last year came to Christopher Columbus of Miami (Fla.) and Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder. Christopher Columbus finished state runner-up in Florida's largest Class 8A.
The Bluebirds have just one scrimmage this year at home against Cincinnati St. Xavier on Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. They scrimmaged the Bombers and the Louisville Trinity Shamrocks last year. Highlands scrimmaged Trinity the past four years in a battle of the teams tied for a state-best 23 state championships, but that will not continue this year.
Highlands opens the season Aug. 21 at the Cooper Jaguars at 7:30 p.m. This marks the first-ever meeting between the two teams. Cooper has done well in the postseason in recent years. The Jaguars lost to eventual 5A champion Pulaski County in the semifinals last year and finished 5A runner-up to Bowling Green in 2012.
The Bluebirds then open the home portion of the schedule on Aug. 28 against Campbell County at 7 p.m. The Camels have been on the schedule the past two years. Former Highlands great Stephen Lickert guided Campbell County to district championships in 2011 and 2012 but the Camels struggled to a 6-5 mark last year. Highlands beat the Camels, 23-16 to open the season and leads the all-time series 52-9.
Highlands travels to Scott County on Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. The Cardinals won the Class 6A state championship in 2013. That marked the first time since 2000 that neither Louisville Trinity or St. Xavier won the state's largest class and the first time a school outside Jefferson County won the largest class since Nelson County did it in 1996. The Cardinals lost 27-24 to Meade County in the second round of the playoffs last year.
The series is tied 1-1 between Highlands and Scott County. The Bluebirds won the 2012 meeting in Fort Thomas, 60-37.
Ryle will be welcomed back on the schedule after a two-year hiatus. The Raiders come to Fort Thomas on Sept. 11 for a 7 p.m. game. The Bluebirds lead the series 11-2 but the 28-26 Ryle win in Union marked just one of two times a Kentucky team has beaten Highlands since 2006.
The Bluebirds welcome the 6A power St. Xavier Tigers on Sept. 18 at 7:30 p.m. The teams have not played since 2006. The Tigers lead the all-time series 4-2. St. Xavier is third with 12 state championships in Kentucky history, but the Tigers have not won one since 2009. Trinity edged St. Xavier, 9-3 in the region championship after the Tigers won the regular season meeting 35-21 last year.
A week later on Sept. 25, Highlands travels to Simon Kenton. Game time is 7 p.m. The Bluebirds and Pioneers will meet for the first time since 1998 and for the first time since Jeff Marksberry became Simon Kenton head coach in 2000. The Bluebirds lead the all-time series 25-1.
The Pioneers have gone to the regional championship game in six of the past seven seasons. But Simon Kenton has not advanced beyond that round since finishing 6A runner-up to Louisville Trinity in 2008.
After a bye week, District 5 action begins on Oct. 9 against Dixie Heights at 7 p.m. for Homecoming. The Bluebirds and Colonels have not met since 2011 with Highlands leading the all-time series 62-8. The Colonels finished 6A runner-up last year but lost a lot to graduation including quarterback Drew Moore.
Eight days later in Park Hills at 1 p.m., Highlands faces arch-rival Covington Catholic and new Head Coach Eddie Eviston. The Bluebirds have won 13 in a row in the series and lead the all-time series 47-17. Highlands has beaten CovCath twice in the past four seasons including four straight region championship games in Fort Thomas.
The Bluebirds conclude district action on Senior Hight on Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. against the Grant County Braves. The Bluebirds have won all six meetings against the Braves. They will meet for the first time since 2006.
Highlands concludes the regular season at Boone County at 7 p.m. The Bluebirds have not played the Rebels since 2010. Highlands is 34-3 all-time against the Rebels. Boone County has won just two games in the past three seasons and will have its third head coach in four seasons in Marty Steele.