HSFB: Bluffton names Collins Hill’s Hayden Gregory new head coach

Bluffton High School has found its new football coach, and he’s coming from a high-profile program in Georgia — and bringing help.

The Bobcats announced Friday evening that Hayden Gregory is the school’s fifth head football coach, coming to Bluffton from Georgia Class 7-A champion Collins Hill, and bringing assistant coach Jared Carkuff with him to solidify his staff.

Collins Hill made national headlines when star Travis Hunter, the nation’s top-ranked recruit, passed up offers from numerous powerhouse programs and signed with Jackson State and head coach Deion Sanders — then the Eagles went on to win the state title. 

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The hire is a big splash for a Bluffton program that has stagnated in recent years, unable to maintain its success early last decade after May River High School opened across town and split the talent pool. 

In addition to coming from a state championship program, Gregory is the son of Collins Hill head coach Lenny Gregory and joined his father’s staff after playing at Mercer University and spending two seasons as a student assistant for the Bears. He has coached the Eagles’ offensive line for five seasons and also coaches wrestling and lacrosse. The younger Gregory was part of a state championship football team at Grayson High School in 2011.

Gregory will bring a bit of familiarity to his first staff as a head coach with Carkuff following him to the Lowcountry to become his offensive coordinator. Carkuff coaches wide receivers at Collins Hill and is also the baseball team’s pitching coach. An all-state quarterback in high school, Carkuff opted to play baseball in college and was drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 35th round of the 2016 MLB Draft following his career at Austin Peay. He pitched three seasons in the minors, compiling a 10-5 record and a 3.80 ERA in 68 relief appearances.

At Bluffton, Gregory takes over a program that enjoyed a dominant run under Ken Cribb from 2010-16, posting 12 or more wins four times in seven seasons and reaching the Class 3A state finals in 2011. Cribb left for Wayne County (Ga.) in 2017 and handed the reins to top assistant John Houpt. 

The Bobcats went 6-5 and 5-5 in Houpt’s first two seasons at the helm, qualifying for the playoffs each season and winning a first-round game in 2017, but they stumbled to a 3-21 record over the past three campaigns as the balance of high school football power in Bluffton shifted across town to May River.

Bluffton showed signs of promise early in the 2021 season, putting together a remarkable second-half rally to beat three-time defending SCISA 1A champion Thomas Heyward in overtime for the Bobcats’ first victory since 2019, then pushing Class 2A contender Wade Hampton to overtime in a home loss and scoring 49 points in the second half of a comeback win at Colleton County. But the Bobcats slumped down the stretch, losing their last five games, including a 31-12 defeat at North Augusta in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs.

Bluffton returns a number of standout skill position players, including receivers Jaylin Linder and Camauri Simmons, as well as linebackers Jeremiah Curry and JaQuinn Williams. 

By Justin Jarrett

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