Ken Cribb tried to tell you all last year.
Despite the losses from his state runner-up team in 2011, the Bluffton High football coach knew he had to pieces in place to make a deep playoff run in 2012. The Bobcats did just that, falling in the Class 4-A Division II semifinal to Northwestern.
So why should anyone doubt him now?
"You can't look at names," Cribb said. "We're bigger than we've ever been, we're faster than we've ever been, we've got more experience than anybody. ... They know the system. Everything is there."
The Bobcats find themselves in much of the same place this preseason as they did last year. The usual suspects who defined Bluffton's incredible three-year run are gone, as quarterback C.J. Frazier, wide receiver Marquis Webber and linebacker Jaquan Campbell no longer will suit up in the black and green every Friday night.
But Cribb likes the veterans stepping into their place. Alex Davis -- a 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior -- began learning the system two years ago, patiently waiting for his time under center. He'll finally hold the reins of the high-octane offense this year, as he presents a dual-threat option for a team that was often pass-heavy under the gun-slinging Frazier.
"I've said it from the get-go, we're going to be as balanced as we've ever been," Cribb said. "We can do both."
Davis will line the backfield with wingbacks Gerald Roberson and Jay Middleton, along with senior B.J. Hill, who moves over to tailback following three years in the secondary. Davis will also have tall receivers to throw to, as Cribb utilizes four receivers 6-foot-4 or taller. Six-foot-1 Vinny Boni also returns.
But the offensive formation getting all the talk this preseason has been Bluffton's new "Thunder" package, which features two of the Bobcats' massive defensive lineman carrying the ball in the backfield. Defensive end Shameik Blackshear -- a 6-5, 240-pound South Carolina commitment -- and tackle K.J. Ford -- a 6-1, 280-pound Division I prospect -- dot the new package.
"It's intimidating to see me up there with them, because they're huge," Davis said. "I just hand it off to them from a far distance because I don't want to get near them. I let them do their thing."
The new wrinkle is far from a gimmick, Cribb said. The package can be used in the red zone or when Bluffton finds itself deep in its own territory.
"It's like having that little $100 bill in your wallet for emergencies," he said. "I can use it anytime I need to."
The two massive linemen will be the bedrock of Bluffton's defense this season.
The Bobcats' secondary remains a work in progress, as Anthony Smith, Jeremy Scott and Khalil Mitchell have all departed. With Hill on offense, new defensive backs Chris Bevan and Tavon Bragg will be charged with shutting down the opposition's receivers.
Teddy Comes, Alex Waddell and Beaufort High School transfer Sheldon Smith remain in a spirited competition for the two safety spots.
The Bobcats remember the bitter feeling of that loss at Northwestern, when Bluffton surrendered a 10-0 halftime lead. They remember the year before it, too, when South Pointe beat them in the Class 3-A state championship game.
Now the Bobcats' senior class, the first to spend all four years in Cribb's program, want one last shot at a ring.
"We're faster, we're stronger," Ford said. "We've been in the weight room all summer. We play with intensity and we like to keep the tempo going."
"When that state championship slipped through our hands, that was a motivator for us," Davis added. "We figured out what we needed to do. Last year, we had all the pieces but we just couldn't finish it. This year, I think we do have the pieces to make it, honestly. I really do."
Stadium: Bobcat Stadium
Region: Region 8-AAAA
Coach: Ken Cribb (37-6, fourth year)
2012 results: 11-3 overall, 4-1 Region 8-AAAA, lost to Northwestern in the Class 4-A Division II semifinals
Key losses: QB/DB C.J. Frazier, WR/DB Marquis Webber, RB/DB Anthony Smith, K/P Mallie Sprouse, wR/DB Demetrius Smalls, RB/DB Jeremy Scott, RB/LB Jaquan Campbell
Top returning starters: WR/DL Shameik Blackshear, RB/DL K.J. Ford, RB/DB Vinny Boni, WR/DB B.J. Hill, RB/DB Gerald Roberson, RB/LB Michael Meyerink
Key newcomers: DB Sheldon Smith, QB Alex Davis, DB Chris Bevan, DB Tavon Bragg
Date Opponent W/L Score
Aug. 17 WHALE BRANCH W 50-0
Aug. 24 RIDGELAND-HARDEEVILLE W 67-0
Aug. 31 SOUTH EFFINGHAM W 35-8
Sept. 7 at Wade Hampton W 54-0
Sept. 14 at James Island W 50-10
Sept. 21 HILTON HEAD HIGH W 80-14
Oct. 5 BEAUFORT W 34-10
Oct. 12 at Ashley Ridge W 37-20
Oct. 19 FORT DORCHESTER W 27-26
Oct. 26 COLLETON COUNTY W 63-12
Nov. 2 at Summerville L 31-22
Nov. 8 at South Florence*' W 37-13
Nov. 16 at Goose Creek*$ L 35-25
Nov. 23 at Northwestern* L 44-30
HOME GAME in CAPS; *Playoff game; $Bluffton won by forfeit.
Note: All games at 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 23 at Whale Branch
Aug. 30 at South Effingham
Sept. 6 A.C. FLORA
Sept. 13 RIDGELAND-HARDEEVILLE
Sept. 20 JAMES ISLAND
Sept. 27 at Hilton Head High
Oct. 11 at Beaufort*
Oct. 18 ASHLEY RIDGE*
Oct. 25 at Fort Dorchester*
Nov. 1 at Colleton County*
Nov. 8 SUMMERVILLE*
HOME GAME in CAPS; *Region opponent
Players to watch
Alex Davis, QB
The junior steps in for the departed C.J. Frazier, who set school records that may never be broken. But Davis presents a more dual-threat option for the Bobcats, and Cribb is expecting Bluffton to be the most balanced its been in his four-year tenure. Davis won't be asked to win games himself but must learn quickly with the Bobcats' region slate expected to provide a stiffer challenge than in 2012.
Shameik Blackshear, DE
The junior is one of the more sought-after prospects in the country, as the defensive end holds offers from Alabama, Florida, Florida State and others. The South Carolina commit racked up 97 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and five sacks in 2012 and is expected to add to those numbers this year. He'll also get plenty of snaps on offense in Bluffton's "Thunder" package.
Three keys to the season
2013 roster (in numerical order)
No. Name Position Height Weight Class
1 Chance Murphy WR/DB 6-5 185 Sr.
2 Jawara Middleton RB/DB 5-8 170 Sr.
3 Gerald Roberson RB/DB 5-10 175 Sr.
4 Alex Davis QB/LB 5-10 180 Jr.
5 B.J. Hill WR/DB 5-11 190 Sr.
6 K.J. Ford RB/DL 6-1 280 Sr.
7 Shameik Blackshear WR/DL 6-5 240 Jr.
8 Vinny Boni RB/DB 6-1 175 Sr.
9 Liam Finn RB/LB 5-10 170 Sr.
10 Addison Prator WR/LB 6-1 180 Soph.
11 Sheldon Smith WR/DB 5-10 180 Jr.
12 Terrance Heyward QB/DB 6-0 180 Soph.
13 Ken Mayo K/P 5-10 160 Jr.
14 Jack Aerni WR/DE 6-4 210 Jr.
15 Herbert Daise WR/DB 6-0 175 Sr.
16 Alex Waddell RB/LB 5-10 180 Sr.
17 Rashad Rivers RB/LB 5-11 170 Jr.
20 Jack Neumann WR/DB 5-11 170 Sr.
21 Nick Williamsen WB/DB 5-9 160 Sr.
22 Dheazea Smalls QB/DB 5-6 130 Soph.
23 Khyllin Jenkins WR/DB 5-11 170 Jr.
24 Tavon Bragg WR/DB 5-10 170 Jr.
25 Christopher Bevan RB/DB 5-9 170 Jr.
26 Laquan Washington RB/DB 5-9 165 Jr.
28 Nic Leone RB/DB 5-9 200 Jr.
30 Lakota Ruckle WR/DB 6-1 180 Jr.
31 Ariken Fields WR/DB 5-9 155 Jr.
32 Shaun Nelson WR/DB 5-9 150 Jr.
33 DeQuandre Smalls RB/LB 5-8 175 Fr.
34 Javon Mack RB/DB 5-6 140 Jr.
35 DaeQundrea Nelson RB/LB 5-9 180 Soph.
36 Pierce Brehany RB/LB 5-9 165 Sr.
40 Teddy Comes WR/DB 5-11 175 Jr.
44 T.J. Ferguson RB/LB 5-11 195 Soph.
45 Michael Meyerink RB/LB 5-8 180 Sr.
50 John Aimar OL/DL 5-9 180 Jr.
51 Luke Maybin OL/DL 5-10 240 Sr.
52 Dillon Wilson OL/DL 6-0 240 Soph.
53 Bobby Bates RB/LB 5-9 175 Soph.
54 Robbie Rini RB/LB 5-10 170 Soph.
55 Josh Darrell OL/DL 6-1 280 Sr.
56 Carl Dixon RB/LB 5-9 185 Jr.
58 Ryan Culp OL/DL 6-2 260 Sr.
59 Nate Freeland OL/DL 6-6 245 Jr.
60 Casean Sanders OL/DL 5-11 210 Sr.
65 Jaquille Mosley OL/DL 5-9 190 Jr.
68 Ryan Ferrell OL/DL 6-1 225 Fr.
69 Andres Nava OL/DL 5-9 200 Soph.
70 Julien Lee OL/DL 5-10 205 Jr.
72 Taylor Gordon OL/DL 6-4 275 Jr.
73 Logan Velliquette OL/DL 5-11 200 Soph.
74 Dakota Vincent OL/DL 5-11 205 Sr.
75 Charlie Campbell OL/DL 5-10 200 Soph.
76 Michael Jones OL/DL 6-1 280 Sr.
77 Matt Maerz OL/DL 6-0 220 Fr.
78 Darren Lunde OL/DL 6-2 205 Sr.
79 Norman Council OL/DL 5-10 280 Jr.
80 Juan Martir WR/DB 6-4 190 Sr.
82 D.J. Dobson WR/DB 6-5 186 Sr.
88 Hayden Dwyer WR/DB 6-1 175 Sr.