John Houpt has already proven himself to be a successful football coach at Bluffton High, but last season was one that truly tested his mettle. Now, with a new start surrounded by the dark clouds of a global pandemic, the 2020 season will be a challenge unlike any before for Houpt and the Bobcats.
They’ll have some large holes to fill on offense, as reliable quarterback Lee Kirkland and star wide receiver Rakim White are both playing at the next level. But the support will be there for Bluffton on the offensive line. Luke Bond, Chase Wilfong, and Gavin Heintschel will return to provide needed depth and give room for senior running back Kylan Simmons, who racked up the touchdowns a year ago. A thriving Simmons would be helpful for young quarterbacks Nate Hoyt and Max Vonhohenstraeten to ease in and make the jump less daunting. Look for Camauri Simmons to be a consistent target at wideout, and there’s certainly some depth that will look to break through by season’s end.
Only five starters return on defense, but they will be important anchors for a side of the ball that needs to improve after allowing more than 40 points per game in 2019. Going into junior year, Julian Suaza should improve as a strong and reliable linebacker for the Bobcats this fall. Senior John Sutay will look to lead a secondary without White and Cody Eldridge, and with some talented quarterbacks in the region, his play will be important to keeping the Bobcats from giving up big plays. DJ Aiken, a recipient of some big-time college offers, will be needed to attack the line and step up in a young and inexperienced unit.
It will be a year of growth while most importantly a year of keeping players, coaches, and others safe. On the field, the Bobcats will look to set themselves up for some big strides in the seasons to come with new quarterbacks and a young defense. But after Hilton Head High and Beaufort High called off their opener due to COVID concerns, the real test may be the one off the field. Coach Houpt has shown his excellent leadership before. Now, he’ll have to do it during the most unprecedented season we’ve ever seen.
BLUFFTON BOBCATS FOOTBALL
Coach: John Houpt (4th season)
Record at BLHS: 14-16
2019 record: 1-8, 0-3 region
Top returners: OL Luke Bond, OL Chase Wilfong, OL Gavin Heintschel, RB Kylan Simmons, TE Tre’von Brown, WR Camauri Simmons, DE DJ Aiken, LB Julian Suaza , LB Billy Fletcher, DB John Sutay, DB Tyler Ford
Notable losses: QB Lee Kirkland, WR Rakim White, DE Xavier Dykstra, WR Cody Eldridge, K Evan Hayes, P Uriel Zarracan
Breakout candidates: QB Nate Hoyt, WR Jayden Linder, OLB Jaquinn Williams, OLB Jeremiah Curry, DB Robert Mitchell, DL Mikeem Tyson
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kylan Simmons, RB — Every offense needs to have that reliable option, and for the Bobcats this year, it’s Simmons. At 5-10 and 210 pounds, the senior has shown the power to burst through the line and break tackles, but he also has some fantastic mobility to find some extra yards. We’ll likely see Simmons become a favorite receiving target for the short throws, especially with two young quarterbacks entering the fray. With several important returnees on the offensive line, Simmons should set the pace for the Bobcats on offense and will be the go-to guy when they’re looking to punch the ball in the end zone.
DJ Aiken, DE — Jaylen Sneed and Eamon Smalls may be the big men on campus in the region when it comes to defense, but don’t forget about Aiken. He has a phenomenal frame and has worked incredibly hard going into his junior season. In fact, he’s already earned some huge rewards, including offers to play at Florida State, Georgia, Auburn, and Tennessee. His long arms come in handy to slip up runners on the outside, and his size at the line of scrimmage will help take away interior gaps. Aiken’s versatility can put him as a defensive end or tackle wherever he is needed. If he can deliver this year, he’ll give the Bobcats a needed advantage against some potent offenses.
Which offensive playmakers will step up in the absence of last year’s senior stars?
With the loss of Lee Kirkland and Rakim White, the Bobcat offense will be searching for new leadership on the offensive side. Two quarterbacks are looking to take that important step in 2020. Nate Hoyt seems to be the leading candidate for the starting job behind center. The junior has been around the program for a while and formerly led the JV squad.
Sophomore Max Vonhohenstraeten could also play a role and complement Hoyt’s skills as the year goes on. We very well could see a two-quarterback system, where both will split time and come in according to the situation. The answer to White’s replacement is even more open-ended. You can’t easily replace White, but there are others down the line with some of his skill sets. Tre’Von Brown might be the reliable target that Hoyt and Vonhohenstraeten are looking for. At 6-3 and 216 pounds, Brown became a reliable option late last year. He has phenomenal hands and should be an important target, especially on third down and in short-yardage situations. Camauri Simmons can turn on the jets and speed past defenders, and if the quarterbacks can deliver some solid throws, Simmons has the talent to challenge the region’s best defensive backs. He may also find time as a change of pace back or check down when the Bobcats are forced to throw the football. With a variety of athletes with different abilities, Bluffton will be forced to spread the ball around, which could certainly benefit this young offense and task the opposing defenses to look out for everyone.
REGION AND BEYOND
Rival May River is headed up to 4A, which makes the Bobcats’ rivalry with the Sharks mean even more. If they’ll make any noise this season, they’ll have to first take down Colleton County at home, which will show how ready this team truly is. Jumping straight into region play without a single out-of-region contest will be a daunting task, especially in a year with major turnover. However, if the Bobcats can impress against the Cougars, it will certainly set their sights on an upset of the Sharks. With a proven coach like Houpt at the helm of a new-look team, they could very well give their rivals a scare.
9/25 — vs. Colleton County*
10/2 — at May River*
10/9 — vs Hilton Head High*
10/16 — at Beaufort*
10/30 — vs James Island*