With only eight starters back, including only three on offense, one might expect Bluffton High School football coach John Houpt to experience some frustration heading into his second season at the helm of the Bobcats.
But even after an 0-2 start, Houpt is excited about his team, which is 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.”
The young offensive line struggled against a massive defensive front in a season-opening 31-30 loss at Screven County but showed improvement in a 35-21 loss to rival May River in Week 2 and should continue to make strides as the season progresses.
Kirkland has shown great poise in his first two starts, and the Bobcats have plenty of weapons around him. Running back John Swinton is back after finishing strong last season, and speedster Shamar Sandgren and fellow junior Rakim White provide a pair of great targets on the edges while tight end Tre’von Brown is a budding star.
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.”
Justin Jarrett has been covering sports in the Lowcountry since 2005 and is the founder of LowcoSports.com.