John Houpt is living a dream.
Ten years ago, he joined the Beaufort County School District as an elementary school teacher. Now he’s ready to lead the Bluffton High School Bobcats in his first season as their head coach.
When the position became available following departure of Ken Cribb to Wayne County in Georgia, Houpt jumped at it.
“What makes this job exciting is when I started in 2007 some of these kids were in kindergarten at Bluffton Elementary, which is where I started teaching,” Houpt said. “I live here, this is my town and this is what I love. I’ve wanted to be part of this program ever since I got here.
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“I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity when it arose.”
It’s been a long time coming for Houpt, who has spent most of his coaching career in South Carolina.
“I wanted to get a position at Bluffton when I first moved down here, but I was fortunate enough to get a position at Hilton Head High School,” Houpt said. “From there, I went to Ridgeland when I got the defensive coordinator offer, and then I got the defensive coordinator position at Bluffton.”
Houpt doesn’t plan to veer too far from what the Bobcats did under Cribb, who posted a 63-26 in his seven years as Bluffton’s head coach.
“Well, one thing that we try to do is keep what we did last year but modify it,” Houpt said. “I brought in a defensive approach. What we are doing is keeping things simple. Everything we’re doing makes sense.
“We work as units in everything that we do and we practice in groups before we come together as a team so that all the little puzzle pieces come together so there’s no confusion.”
Starting quarterback Hunter Eldridge is thankful for the new coaching staff’s approach.
“They have a positive vibe around the team,” Eldridge said. “We are young and we have a lot of new faces on the team. They are very upbeat about that.”
As the team works to maintain its winning ways, Eldridge is hoping to add a different dynamic to the field.
“I’m working on my game and my speed because I’m more of a pocket passer,” said Eldridge. “I want to be able to change that and be able to get out of the pocket and run if I need to.”
Eldridge admitted it’s hard to ignore Bluffton’s 12-1 record from last season.
“We’re not looking back on last year,” he said. “We’re always looking ahead. It is tough because last year we had such a great season and we had a brotherhood, but it’s going to be the same this year.
We’re going to have a family-like atmosphere.”
Offensive tackle Quan Bell said there aren’t too many holes fill. He considers the Bobcats’ offense to be a well-oiled machine.
“We only lost two key players,” Bell said. “Other than that, the offense is up and running and it’s even better than last year.”
Bluffton will compete in the Erk Russell Classic at Georgia Southern University’s Paulson Stadium on Aug. 19, landing a rematch of a 2016 meeting against Screven County (Ga.). The Bobcats won 25-18 in a hard-fought contest.
“We know they are talking mess,” Bell said. “We know how schools are, but we aren’t worried about that. Bluffton is going to do it our way. Win or lose, we’ll still come home with pride.
“They are a really good school. In my opinion, I think we could’ve done a lot better against them last time. This year we’re going to prove everyone wrong.”
REGION: Class 3A, REGION 8
COACH: John Houpt (first year, 0-0 overall)
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Brookland-Cayce in the third round to finish 13-1.
Key returners: Hunter Eldridge, QB; Jermaine Patterson, WR; Shamar Sandgren, WR; Quan Bell, LT; Richard Jenkins, OLB; Tristen James, S; Reggie Brown, CB
Best-case scenario: The sky’s the limit for the Bobcats, who averaged 47 points per game last season, reaching at least 71 points or more three times.
Don’t expect things to slow for the Bobcats offensively, and their defense is likely to continue to wreak havoc. They posted four shutouts in 2016.
Execution and discipline will be primary factors inhow far the Bobcats advance in the postseason.
Aug. 19 — Screven County at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro, Ga.
Aug. 25 — at May River
Sept. 1 — at Beaufort
Sept. 8 — New Hampstead
Sept. 15 — at Hilton Head Island
Sept. 22 — Whale Branch
Sept. 29 — May River
Oct. 6 — at Battery Creek
Oct. 13 — Wade Hampton
Oct. 27 — at Ridgeland-Hardeeville