BLUFFTON – There’s a new football coach at Bluffton.
But it’s not necessarily “out with the old and in with the new” in Pirate Land.
Longtime Bluffton coach Dennis Lee has retired and former assistant Kyle Cutnaw is now guiding the ship for the Pirates. Cutnaw was the head coach at Edgerton in 2006.
With Bluffton coming off a 6-4 season (4-3 in the Northwest Conference), Cutnaw has 11 letter winners, including nine starters, back from last year’s talented squad.
The first-year head coach is bringing a renewed enthusiasm to Bluffton, along with some new twists to both the offensive and defensive schemes.
However, Cutnaw is cautious not to totally revamp what has worked in the past.
“We try to keep the schemes as consistent as possible,” Cutnaw said. “But anytime you have a new head coach, there’s going to be change. I don’t think it’s been a huge challenge with anything. It’s not one particular thing. You run an entire program from top to bottom. So, there’s weightlifting. There’s installation of offense, defense and special teams. Then there’s personnel, fundraisers and community service. It’s all encompassing things.
“We’re very fortunate. All of our returning lettermen are good kids and they’re really good students of the game. They picked up on the schemes very quickly. I think they were hungry and eager for that.”
The Pirates return several skill players.
Robbie Stratton (5-10, 160, Sr.), an all-Ohio defensive back in 2013 and also a huge threat at wide receiver, leads the list of returners for Bluffton. Stratton also is a state-caliber track athlete.
“Robbie (Stratton) can do a lot of different things,” Cutnaw said. “Robbie will be taking the top off of coverage, and he does some different things. We’re fortunate in that we have a lot of good skill kids. We can line them up anywhere. We’re pretty versatile where we can put them.”
Stratton is looking forward to the upcoming season.
“We have a new offense,” Stratton said. “It’s a lot easier to learn, especially for the receivers.
“I think right now the league is up for anybody. We’re looking to make the playoffs, and we want to clinch the NWC.”
Bluffton’s offense will feature some different twists this season.
“It will be a multiple offense,” Cutnaw said. “Sometimes we’ll be in shotgun spread stuff, and sometimes under center. We can be anything from double tight to five wide.”
Back at quarterback is junior Mitchell Ault (6-0, 190). Ault was honorable mention NWC last season.
“This is his second full year starting at quarterback,” Cutnaw said. “He’s talented. He’s got the work ethic and he’s almost a perfectionist. He really attacked it during the offseason. He’s a junior captain. Whatever it is, he puts his heart and soul into it.”
Ault said the transition to the new coach has gone pretty smooth.
“Coach ‘Cut’ was here last year with coach Lee and he carried over some stuff we did last year, but he also put in some new stuff. It’s starting to come together,” said Ault.
Senior Austin Bricker will make an impact for the Pirates in several ways this season. Bricker (5-5, 155) will play wide receiver and on defense will be at a defensive back. He also will return punts and kick-offs.
“He has big-play ability every time the ball is in his hands,” Cutnaw said of Bricker.
Bricker likes the way the new head coach has approached this season.
“He’s big on focusing on the little things,” Bricker said. “Coach Cutnaw did a good job of keeping some plays and then adding some things. “
Another impact player for the Pirates will be senior Levi Kistler (6-1, 200). Kistler will line up at tight end or wide receiver on offense. On defense, Kistler will be at a linebacker spot.
Dylan Alt (5-11, 165, Sr.) will be an important cog on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Alt will line up at fullback and also will be a presence at a linebacker position.
Clay Wilson (5-11, 165, Sr.) will be at the tailback spot. On defense, look for Wilson to be at a linebacker position.
“He’s got tremendous speed,” Cutnaw said about Wilson. “He was third in the state in the pole vault this year in track, and is just a tremendous athlete. I think what Clay is learning is patience when he’s running the football. He’s learning how to set up blocks and he’s a good receiver out of the backfield as well.”
A few of the newcomers to keep an eye on, according to Cutnaw, are Dustin Falk (5-6, 140, Soph. RB/DB), Kaleb Jefferson (5-10, 190, Frosh., RB/LB) and Dakota Bricker (5-6, 140, Frosh., WR/DB).
Defensively, Bluffton will show mainly a 4-3 formation with the ability to go to a 5-man line.
With a solid core of returners, Cutnaw is excited about the prospects for the upcoming season.
“We have the potential to be a special team,” Cutnaw said. “We are eager to see the benefits of our hard work and dedication from this off-season.”