BLUFFTON – When Jeff Richards took over as the head football coach at Bluffton a couple years ago, he not only wanted to build a stronger program, but also build stronger athletes.
Now, entering his third season at his alma mater, Richards seems to be heading in the right direction.
After coming off a 4-6 (3-4 in the Northwest Conference) season, Bluffton’s roster boasts a little more size, heading into the 2018 campaign.
Richards is hoping the added size will equate to a more physical team – and ultimately more wins. The Pirates return 18 letter winners.
“Offensively, we’re really excited,” Richards said. “We have four linemen coming back – three that started the entire season. It’s the first time in the three years we’ve been a staff here, that we’ve had a consistent offensive line; and size-wise, we’re much bigger. We should average well over 200 pounds across the board on the line this year. In the previous years, we were around 180 pounds, tops.
“I’ve told the guys since Day One, that it’s a process and nothing is going to change overnight. In my first year, Mason Ault and Deandre Nassar had to play offensive line for us. Mason at that point, maybe weighed 150 pounds. And it wasn’t because we wanted them to, but because we needed them to. And that’s a tribute to the character of those young men, because they did it for the team.”
Leading the way for the Pirates, offensively, will be Nassar (Sr., 205, running back). Last season, Nassar rushed for 434 yards and three touchdowns. Kaleb Jefferson, who graduated in 2017, led the Pirates with 930 yards rushing and 13 TDs. Nassar also is a state-placer in wrestling.
“Deandre Nassar is back as our running back,” Richards said. “He was an all-conference performer last year. Athletically, I would take him pound-for-pound, against anyone. He’s very explosive. He’s deceiving because of his height. He’s an explosive athlete.”
Calling signals behind center for Bluffton will be senior Logan Rhodes. In 2017, Rhodes’ season was cut short, due to an injury. Like last season, Bluffton will run the flex-bone triple option.
“He (Rhodes) started the year out last year at quarterback,” Richards said. “He had some shoulder problems. So, we had to shuffle some things around. We’ve got some strong receivers and A-backs with our flex-bone system – that will really help with that.”
On defense, Richards is very optimistic. The Pirates will employ a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
“Defensively, we have Mason Ault (Sr., 170) back, who missed the last four games of last season; and he was still named all-conference as a defensive end, because of the impact he made early on,” Richards said.
“We have some strong defensive backs. Our linebacker group is experienced, and they have matured. We had some kids playing as sophomores that were really getting the feel of that varsity experience. Now, they’re ready to kind of step out. Baylor Garmatter (Jr., 145) started since he was a freshman for us at safety. He’s another fast, explosive, athletic guy.”
Richards also is excited about his kicking game.
“We have an all-conference kicker back with Kyle Koontz (Jr., 140). He’s consistent. He’s one we never had to worry about. He does some really good things,” he said.
Richards said his upperclassmen bought into his philosophy, early on.
“They’ve put on size in the weight room. I’m one who firmly believes the work you put in for all sports – it all starts in the weight room. Your muscles protect you from injuries. We have some guys who have really dedicated themselves, and it’s paying off.”