The Buchholz football program is reaping the benefits of its successful 2022 season.
Following the Bobcats’ second straight state semifinal appearance, four more players signed to play college football on Wednesday.
Offensive linemen Brady Barnes (University of the Cumberlands) and Taylor McGriff (Murray State), and defensive players Donny Hiebert (FSU) and Camron Boykins (Thomas More University) realized their dreams on national signing day in front of family, friends, coaches, and administrators in the Buchholz cafeteria.
Barnes, who started playing football when he was 5 years old, is headed to Williamsburg, Kentucky, to play for NAIA University of the Cumberlands.
“This means everything to me and my family,” said Barnes, who said playing against higher competition teams at Buchholz gave him the confidence he could play at the next level. “It’s a beautiful campus. I love the cold. I’ll fit in there a little bit better because you can tell by my accent a little bit, the boots on and everything. I love it there.”
New Buchholz head coach Chuck Bell said Barnes has been their most consistent offensive lineman over the last three seasons.
“He truly takes pride in being an offensive lineman and protecting our skill players, especially our quarterback, as evidenced by the fact that our O-line only allowed two sacks on 320 passing attempts,” Bell said.
Last week, Barnes and McGriff both made the Bosshardt Realty All Area offense first team.
McGriff is carrying on a lineage that includes several family members who have had the opportunity to play at the next level.
“That’s all I knew basically (football),” said McGriff, who noted his dad, Mark (University of Florida), inspired him the most. “He always made me work for it. I knew how good he was. I wanted to live up to those expectations so I worked as hard as I could to get where I am today. I just want to make him proud.”
He transferred from GHS his sophomore year and quickly learned to play on the offensive side of the ball, crediting Buchholz offensive line coach Matthew DiBernardo, who told him he was going to make him a D-I lineman.
“He’s done such an outstanding job picking up the techniques and skills necessary to perform at a high level in a very short time,” Bell said. “Taylor brought a level of tough grittiness to the position that every team needs. His physicality and road-grating mentality was a huge reason our team averaged over seven yards per carry on the ground last fall.”
During the early signing period in December, quarterback Creed Whittemore (Mississippi State), wide receivers Jacarree Kelly (Delaware University) and Jaren Hamilton (Alabama), and defensive end Gavin Hill (Florida) signed to play Division-I college football.
Along with McGriff (Ohio Valley Conference), Hiebert will get that opportunity too as a preferred walk-on at Florida State University.
“It’s a great opportunity that I’m super appreciative of,” said Hiebert, who is expected to play defensive back and/or linebacker for the Seminoles. “It’s something that I won’t take for granted.”
He led the Bobcats with 103 tackles and made the Bosshardt Realty All Area defensive football team.
Bell said that Hiebert would “unquestionably” play at FSU.
“Donny will find a way somehow, someway,” he said. “His determination, his drive, frankly Donny has the size right now (6’2, 198) that people are looking for. Possibly, had Donny been a football-focused guy the entire time, likely he could have cleaned up a few things that maybe held him back from getting the full Division-I scholarship offers very early in the process, but there is no question in my mind. I think that anybody who knows Donny knows that he is going to play at Florida State at some point.”
Boykins transferred to Buchholz from GHS just a couple of days before the start of fall camp last summer.
“A lot of working, keep believing, and grit,” Boykins said about his only year at Buchholz, which were some of the attributes that helped him get the opportunity to play beyond high school. “Before I even got here, when I was at Gainesville being a Hurricane, I didn’t even know what grit was until Coach Whitt (Whittemore) kept trying me and let me know what it was.”
As a senior, Boykin finished with 30 tackles and two tackles for a loss.
“He came in as a guy that had never really played much in the defensive backfield but based off of what we returned on the offensive side it was pretty clear that we needed a little bit more help on the defensive side, so Cam made the transition to corner and started at cornerback for the first time really in his career,” Bell said. “It’s a tough transition to make but Cam, using his athleticism and his size (6’2, 170), he ended up being a really natural fit.”
Bell said one of his biggest accolades was that Boykins was the guy that they would put on the opposing team’s No. 1 receiver.
“Cam locked up Sharif Denson, who’s playing for the Gators now, at Bartram Trail, Fleming Island had a D-I receiver this past year that Cam had several PBU’s (pass break ups) against,” Bell said. “He was really just able to step up against larger receivers and that higher end athlete. He was a guy that we could trust athletically to go against anybody.”