by Martin McConnell
In his 17 years as a head coach in high school football, Mike Gibbons had never gone 10-0 in the regular season. The 2022 Highland Hornets were determined to change that.
Behind an exceptionally efficient running game and a stout that gave up well under a touchdown per game in the regular season, the Hornets improved on their 9-1 regular season from 2021. Highland cruised to a perfect regular season, and the second playoff seed in OHSAA’s Region 6.
“We came up six inches short in a game [last year],” head coach Mike Gibbons said. “I think the kids looked at that and wanted to get better. I’m extremely proud of everyone. All the players first, and the coaching staff, I felt like they did a great job.”
Gibbons said Highland’s rushing attack was the key to what the team was able to do on offense. Behind consistent effort from senior running back Lukas Stiles, the Hornets became an offensive juggernaut, averaging 42.6 points in their 13 games.
“Lukas is a great kid, a great young man,” Gibbons said. “He’s an unbelievable leader. He does everything the right way, in the classroom, on the practice field, in the community, and obviously out on the football field. He’s just a real special player to have, somebody that I think other teams did not want to go up against.”
Stiles became an everyman for Highland throughout his varsity career. In addition to his prowess as a rusher, the former All-Ohio selection excelled as a middle linebacker for the Hornets, and was instrumental in building one of the best defenses in the Suburban League this season.
Highland’s defense allowed just 4.3 points per game in the regular season, grinding opposing offensive attacks to a halt week after week. For the Hornets, it was about playing as a cohesive unit on the defensive side of the ball.
“Having the philosophy of ‘I have to do my job to the best of my ability, I can’t do someone else’s job,’ you can play really good defense that way,” Gibbons explained. “Just taking care of your role, and being like 11 as one out on the field.”
Highland’s rushing attack and strong defensive unit this season were both by design. As a team, the Hornets had to buy into that hard-nosed philosophy, and commit to a mindset of toughness on every play. Gibbons mentioned the team’s mentality is part of what made them so hard to beat in 2022.
“It’s a commitment to running the ball first and foremost,” Gibbons said. “It’s a mindset, and that’s how we practiced. It’s a team effort. It’s the offensive line, it’s the tight end, it’s the receivers, it’s the quarterback and then obviously the running backs. It’s everybody.”
The Hornets’ memorable season came to an end on Nov. 11 with a playoff loss to Toledo Central Catholic. With the loss in the regional semifinals, the work is far from done at Highland High School.
“It was a tough loss, [but a] great season,” Gibbons said. “This week definitely feels different, not having anything to prepare for. We have kids that are already talking about wanting to get together and do workouts and throw together. That’s really what you want to see as a coach.”
Gibbons mentioned that this year’s team is one of the best to ever wear a Highland uniform and walk the halls of the school. Though this year’s Hornets may have come up short, they will forever have a place in Highland’s history books.
“It’s hard to go 10-0,” Gibbons said. “I think they’re always going to have a special place here in this school. No matter how old they get, or wherever their lives take them, I hope they are always able to come back here with great memories of the 2022 season, and what they were able to accomplish.”
Featured Photo: Hornets players celebrate in the end zone following a touchdown.