With only eight starters back, including only three on offense, you’d expect Bluffton coach John Houpt to be frustrated this time of year.
But Houpt is fired up about his second season at the helm of the Bobcats, who are young but brimming with enthusiasm.
“We’ve got a bunch of leaders who are buying into what we’re doing,” Houpt said. “We’ve only got 10 seniors on the team, but we have 42 players who are all acting as seniors, buying into the team concept and working hard to drive each other. They’re not afraid of conditioning, and they’re not afraid of the weight room, which is the top two things I’m looking at.”
The offense is almost unrecognizable from a year ago, with an entirely new offensive line, a new quarterback – tight end Lee Kirkland moves behind center to replace Hunter Eldridge – and a gaping hole where all-state receiver Jermaine Patterson used to be. Despite all the new faces, though, the offensive philosophy remains the same.
“We’re going to see what the defense is going to give us, and we’re going to take what we can from it,” Houpt said. “We have new guys (on the offensive line) but they’re really bonding and the chemistry is there already.”
Running back John Swinton is back after finishing strong last season, and Kirkland has some weapons at his disposal, including speedster Shamar Sandgren and fellow junior Rakim White.
The Bobcats are going back to basics on defense, returning to a simplified scheme they used in 2010 and 2011 when Houpt was the defensive coordinator.
“The focus is everybody to the ball,” senior linebacker Jaylon Thompson said. “You do your job, and then you get to the ball. As long as everybody does their job and gets to the ball, we should be great.”
Thompson and powerhouse defensive end Ronald Reid will be game-changing players on defense, and sophomore linebacker Kylan Simmons is emerging as another leader on that side of the ball.
“All the young guys are willing to learn and are very coachable, so they’re learning their positions very quickly,” Reid said.
BLUFFTON BOBCAT FOOTBALL
Coach: John Houpt
Record at BLHS: 7-4 (2nd season)
2017 record: 7-4 overall, 3-1 region, lost in second round of Class 3A playoffs
Returning starters: 3 offense, 5 defense
Offensive scheme: Spread
Defensive scheme: 4-2-5
Top returners: ILB Jaylon Thompson, DE Ronald Reid, RB John Swinton
Notable losses: OL Quan Bell, OL Khalil Bellamy, OL Decker Paulmeier, OL Drew Lee, OL Kevin Sales, WR Jermaine Patterson, LB Richard Jenkins, DB Reggie Brown, DB Tristen James
Breakout candidates: RB/LB Kylan Simmons, S/RB Ely’Jiah Mitchell, QB Lee Kirkland, WR Shamar Sandgren
PLAYER TO WATCH
Shamar Sandgren, WR: Sandgren was overshadowed by LowcoSports Offensive Player of the Year Jermaine Patterson last season, and then his season was cut short by injury. Now he will be the go-to receiver for new quarterback Lee Kirkland and should put up big numbers. He’s a major deep threat who will help the Bobcats stretch the field.
Can the offensive line get the job done? Everything starts up front, but especially when you’re breaking in an entirely new offensive line. The Bobcats graduated all five starters in the trenches, including two guys who are playing in college. There’s plenty of talent at the skill positions, but Kirkland needs time to get them the ball.
REGION AND BEYOND
You could make a case for any of the four teams in the reconfigured Region 7-4A being the favorite to claim the region crown, and that includes the Bobcats. Bluffton is probably the least experienced team in the region, but the Bobcats have seven games to prepare for region play and grow into a contender.
8/17 — at Screven County
8/24 — vs. May River
8/31 — at Ridgeland-Hardeeville
9/7 — at Hanahan
9/14 — vs. Hartsville
9/21 — at Sumter
9/28 — vs. Richmond Hill
10/5 — vs. Beaufort High*
10/12 — Open
10/19 — at Colleton County*
10/26 — vs. Hilton Head High*
PLEASE SUPPORT OUR SPONSORS WHO SUPPORT GREAT LOCAL SPORTS COVERAGE!
All content at LowcoSports.com is free because Lowcountry sports fans deserve great sports coverage, but it takes a lot of time and effort to provide comprehensive local sports news. If you love what we're doing and want to help keep this content available to Lowcountry sports fans at no charge, please consider making a one-time donation or becoming a Patreon patron with a recurring contribution. Think of it as an optional subscription fee.