WES’s WISDOM: Bobcats took risk with Gregory, hoping for big reward

WES’s WISDOM: Bobcats took risk with Gregory, hoping for big reward

As John Houpt penned his final letter goodbye to the Bobcat faithful in November, Bluffton High School’s football program was officially at a crossroads. Houpt did all he could to help his team compete after the challenges of a school split, but it was time for the longtime coach to step away. 

Once a powerhouse program under the great Ken Cribb just a decade ago, the Bluffton football team has become the minnows to the Sharks of newly-formed May River High School. With the program in desperate need of a step forward, the next head coaching hire was key to the future success of the Bobcat football team and athletic department as a whole. 

There’s no doubt in my mind that they found the right man. 

A young coach can bring a breath of fresh air to a program in need of a spark, and I believe Hayden Gregory is more than ready to take the reins of this Bobcat squad. Yes, there certainly are risks in taking a chance on a still unproven 26-year-old assistant as he begins his first head coaching role. But even the best in his profession began with no experience and found a way to make the magic happen through their expertise and hard work. Gregory was eyeing this goal from a very young age and has dedicated himself over the years to know the game inside and out. He may not have the reps compared to others yet, but he’s already seen and done what it takes to turn a football program around. 

In five years as an offensive line coach at Georgia’s Collins Hill, he was part of a coaching staff under his father, Lenny Gregory, that turned a 2-8 season into a perfect 15-0 GHSA 7A state championship campaign five years later in 2021. He put in the work to bolster the play in the trenches, consistently finishing in the state’s top three teams in rushing yards. In his wildly successful tenure at Collins Hill, Gregory proved his unrivaled work ethic and dedication to his program that was instrumental to its remarkable turnaround.

It certainly will be far from easy to turn things around at Bluffton. Heck, it’s almost never easy for a first-year coach heading into his debut season. But he’ll have a valuable person in his corner from day one: his dad. He won’t physically be there in person on his staff, but Lenny will be able to guide his son through the difficult processes and logistics that come with taking over a high school football program. 

It takes a while for even the best coaches to make their mark on their program, but there’s reason to think we could see things take a very quick rise in The Den. The talent is already there to compete in Region 7-4A. Gregory will have a duo of electric offensive weapons at his disposal, including the blazing-fast Camauri Simmons and explosive Jaylen Linder alongside a quarterback with strong potential. 

The defensive corps may be even more exciting, as linebackers JaQuinn Williams and Jeremiah Curry both return after breakout 2021 seasons. If he can get things clicking over the first few games this fall, we could see the Bobcats surprise and make a climb in what could be a wide-open region with the departure of defending Lower State champion Beaufort High to Class 3A. There’ll be no bigger game on the schedule than May River, and his success in his tenure over the next few years could come down to the Bobcats’ performance in one of the Lowco’s most spirited crosstown rivalries. 

Gregory is prepared and excited for the opportunity, and will bring in a new and vibrant mentality for a group of athletes that should buy in quickly to their head coach. His overarching philosophies are concise: “Be more physical” and “Keep it simple.” Football can be a complex game, but if each of the 11 men on the field can execute the fundamentals the right way and put in the work, the talent will take care of itself. I loved Gregory’s energy and enthusiasm in our interview on this week’s LowcoSports Lowdown podcast, and I was thoroughly impressed with his drive to make an instant impact on this program.

The next era of Bluffton football may be the most important yet, and the Bobcats have entrusted a bold, confident young coach to lead this group forward. He brings in a proven track record of success, a hunger to do whatever it takes to win, and a fresh mind that is ready to get to work and transform his team of young men on and off the field. 

It’s an exciting time to be a Bluffton Bobcat, and we can’t wait to follow Gregory’s journey as he starts to lay the foundations for what could be a special career ahead of him in the Lowco. 

By Wes Kerr

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