BLUFFTON – One of the main goals Jeff Richards had, coming in as the Bluffton head football coach three years ago, was to produce a bigger, more physical football team.
Check that off the list.
This year’s Bluffton squad will boast at least a half-dozen athletes who weigh 220 pounds or more.
“We actually bring back four of our five starters on the offensive line,” said Richards, a former Bluffton High School and Bluffton University football player. “This is the first year when I can say that we have a big, experienced line. Three of them were all-conference in 2018. When we first got here, the average size of my offensive line was about 170 pounds. This year, we’re about 250. So, we did get a little bit bigger.
“Mickey Ault (6-0, 251, Sr., tackle) and Landen Luginbuhl (6-1, 250, Sr., center) have been starting for three years. Aaron Tabler (6-1, 279, So., guard) and Trent Howard (6-0, 222, So., guard), who are going to be sophomores, are all big boys.”
In 2018, Bluffton was 3-7 overall and 2-5 in the Northwest Conference.
However, Bluffton will not be just a big, physical football team. Throw in sophomore quarterback Nate Schaadt (6-0, 170), who started all 10 games in 2018, running a very tricky flex bone triple-option offense.
Last season, Schaadt was 42-of-114 passing for 636 yards with five touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He rushed for another 447 yards. This year, Richards projects a higher level of play from his young quarterback.
“Nate Schaadt is back at quarterback,” Richards said. “He’s a sophomore. He started from week one for us (in 2018), which was a growing process for him, especially since we run a triple-option offense. It takes time to really understand what you’re doing with the triple option. By mid-season, he was making some veteran decisions. So far this (summer) camp, he’s been fabulous at making audibles, making reads and understanding the offense.”
Last season, the Pirates struggled to stay healthy.
“Injuries killed us last year. Deandre Nassar was a very talented running back, but he ended up playing only 22 quarters all season because he was injured,” Richards said. “He had 600 yards rushing in those 22 quarters. So, he had a good year, considering the injuries he was dealing with.”
Nassar also was a Division III state champion in wrestling last school year.
“In our backfield, Tucker Neff (6-0, 220, Sr.) got the bulk of our carries, with Deandre getting hurt last year,” Richards said. “He’s big. He’s not as fast as Deandre was, but he was a railroad track style runner. He’s an old-school fullback. He gets the job done.”
Last season, Neff rushed for 298 yards on 66 carries.
“At receiver, we have a few guys back as well,” Richards said. “A lot of utility players we used last year will get a little more attention this year.”
In 2018, Bluffton scored 14.8 points per game.
The Pirates will employ a 4-2-5 defensive scheme.
“Defensively, the bulk of our secondary is back,” Richards said. “Up front, we lost a number of defensive linemen. We do have three who were not starting but were getting a lot of reps. Zavier O’Neal (5-10, 276, Jr., nose guard) started a few games for us. … He’s a load for people to handle.”
Anchoring the Pirates on the defensive side of the ball is senior Baylor Garmatter, who also will see plenty of action on the offensive side of the ball at wide receiver. This past track season, Garmatter was a Division III state qualifier in the 400 meters.
“Baylor Garmatter (5-10, 150) is a two-time all-conference safety,” Richards said. “He had some injury issues last year. I would say he’s the leader of the defense. He makes all our calls.”
Bluffton also boasts one of the top kickers in the area.
“On special teams, Kyle Koontz (5-11, 145, Sr.) is back as our kicker,” Richards said. “Last year, he was 8 of 11 on onside kick recoveries. He actually kicked two to himself. He’s very effective. He has range. He had two field goals around 40 yards last year. I’ve seen him kick them 50-plus in practice. He has the leg.”
Richards said this season basically boils down to two things.
“We’re hoping to limit the turnovers this year and be better on offense,” he said.