Hornets hope to improve on bittersweet 2021 season

by Martin McConnell

The Highland Hornets are hungry for more. Following an 11-2 season that ended on a last-second field goal, the varsity football team will once again take the field this fall.

Mike Gibbons, a 17-year veteran head coach, is in his seventh year with the Hornets and is excited for a chance to advance even further in the postseason this year. Despite the expectations, Gibbons urged his players to take the season one game at a time.

“We’re excited about this upcoming team and this season,” Gibbons said. “But we’re focused on the process of the day in, day out, practicing and trying to get better every day… If we do that, we can feel good about our chances on Friday night.”

After a season that ended in a heartbreaking 23-20 loss to Toledo Central Catholic in the third round of the OHSAA, Gibbons noted that his players have felt the pain of loss before. Rather than sleepwalking through the regular season, he believes they will be ready to go every time they take the field.

“Every team presents challenges and there are a lot of good teams that we play,” Gibbons said. “Really, we have no time to sit back and not be ready to go, because if we’re not ready, we will get beat.”

With so many returning starters, the strength of the Hornets lies in being more experienced than many teams, and in being stronger defensively. Gibbons stressed that his football team would win through hard-nosed defense, and with an emphasis on the team’s offensive running game.

“I think defensively, we’re going to be hopefully very, very solid,” Gibbons said. “Everything is going to come along, and we’ll see how that plays out.”

In addition to a talented defense and an All-Ohio running back in the form of three-year starter Lukas Stiles, Gibbons stressed that his starting quarterback must be comfortable within the offense for the Hornets to succeed. Fortunately, his team as a whole has a strong grasp on his offensive system.

“We’re a spread-option offense, and these kids have been running this system since they were in middle school,” Gibbons said. “Part of it is just that continuous growth. … You are trying to develop [quarterbacks] to be comfortable and learn from things they do well, and things they make mistakes on.”

Following a season where they advanced to the third round of the playoffs, Gibbons noted that the Hornets will have a target on their backs for other teams. These expectations are a privilege, however, and the team is ready to have everyone’s best shot this season.

“I tell our kids right now, that they have a big X on their back, because of what they were able to accomplish last year,” Gibbons said. “They’re not sneaking up on anyone, and they’ve got to be ready to go. … I think they’re excited about it. It’s a good thing to have.”