Bobcats will play a tough schedule in 2021 to gear up for a run at a state title in Class 7A.
Last year the Buchholz football team was able to avoid COVID-19, play a full season, and win a couple of games in the Class 7A state playoffs.
The Bobcats (8-2) advanced to the 7A-Region 1 Semifinals before falling to Niceville, 38-35, in double overtime to end the 2020 season.
“We had some really good performances by our seniors last year, by Matt Clayton, D.J. Curtis, and by our running back Quan Smith,” said Buchholz coach Mark Whittemore. “And our juniors played super well, so I couldn’t be more pleased with the momentum we have moving into this season and excited about it.”
Smith, who rushed for 131 yards per game, has graduated and will play for Kennesaw State this fall. He was the first Buchholz back to go back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in over 15 years, according to Whittemore.
But junior quarterback Creed Whittemore, his son, and senior wide receiver Quan Lee are back, which is why Buchholz should be among the best teams in the area this year.
Whittemore, a 3-star athlete who has offers from Texas A&M and Florida, earned All Area honors after completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,675 yards with 23 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He also rushed for 290 yards and two more scores.
But he was thrust into a starting role when starter Jack Hevesy went down with an injury in the first game of the season.
“Creed got a chance to play the position and all the pieces fell into place and he was able to perform at a high level,” Coach Whittemore said. “Obviously having that under his belt moving into this season is advantage Buchholz.”
It worked out for both players.
“It was bad, obviously, for Jack Hevesy on a personal level,” Coach Whittemore said. “He is now at Arkansas State and so excited about his future there in the Sun Belt Conference.”
Being a coach’s son doesn’t hurt, but the fact that Creed’s older brothers dealt with the same thing during their careers at Buchholz definitely helped the younger Whittemore, who noted fellow junior Amarius Hale could help fill the void left by Smith in the backfield.
"I've been watching football since I was a little kid and obviously having both of my brothers play at the collegiate level, it helps a lot," Creed said. "I talked with them every week and asked them some pointers."
His two older brothers, Luke and Trent, both played quarterback in situations that unfolded during the year when they were at Buchholz.
“He’s watched them have to take the helm when our starting quarterback went down," Coach Whittmore said. "His brother’s kind of showed him the way so I don’t think he was as nervous as he would have been if hadn’t of seen that in our family, but he rose to the occasion and actually threw it better than I anticipated.”
Obviously it helps having a player to throw to like Lee, who has countless Division I offers on the table and is closing in on a huge feat in Alachua County.
“If he duplicates or improves on last year, Quan Lee is set right now by our calculations to be the area’s (all-time) leading receiver,” Coach Whittemore said. “As I think back, I’ve been in the area since 1985 and there have been some really good players, but numbers-wise he’s got a chance to make his mark.”
As a junior, Lee caught 52 passes for over 1,000 yards and 13 scores. According to Whittemore he was the Buchholz first receiver to go over 1,000 yards since the early 2000s.
“I plan to be the all-time leading receiver coming out of Alachua County,” said Lee, who needs 400 more yards to reach that milestone. “That’s just one of my personal goals that I want to accomplish. But for a team goal, at the end we want a state championship. I want to do anything and everything I can for my guys to accomplish that.”
The star wide receiver and his quarterback have developed some chemistry on and off the field.
“That guy is amazing,” Lee said. “He’s a guy that I can trust. That’s the biggest thing with me. If I can trust you, I can love you. He’s just a good person overall, other than football, he’s a guy that I can depend on.”
Lee will be a weapon on offense and line up all over the place, even at quarterback.
“No one has really seen me throw so I feel like this gets to show that I’m an athlete, and not just limit myself to one position,” said Lee, who noted he likes playing quarterback.
Lee is such a good athlete that he will be all over the field period, including special teams, and playing safety and cornerback on defense.
“It will be fun for him to get out there and work his craft defensively as well,” Coach Whittemore said.
Senior tackle John McDonough will anchor the offensive line and be expected to fill the leadership role after the Bobcats lost consensus All-State first teamer Da'Shawn Owens to graduation.
McDonough said he is happy about having his quarterback back under center.
“It helps so much because we got so used to him last year,” he said. “Having him pick up that mantle and go so far with it, having a whole summer and getting everything down before the season starts, has been good.”
And after going against the Buchholz defense in practice, McDonough really likes what he sees.
“The defense is probably the best it has been since I’ve been here,” he said. “There’s a lot of good competition, which has me at the best of my game. We’re all so bought in. Everyone has been pushing themselves because we want to get that state championship.”
They are anchored on the defense by linebacker by EJ Gadson.
“He was a starter for us last year and led our team in tackles,” Coach Whittemore said. “I really expect him to give us a lot of leadership.”
Whittemore said on the back end they have senior Tavares Williams and junior Donny Hiebert anchoring the safety positions.
“We should have a highly mobile and competitive defensive line,” Coach Whittmore said. “Colsen Orth had three sacks against Vanguard (Ocala) in our spring game. He should lead that unit to great success. And Gavin Hill is our 4-star defensive end. He’s gained 20 pounds and looks like a monster.”
The schedule will be “extremely tough.”
“We play five teams that were either in the final game or won the final game in their respective divisions,” Coach Whittemore said. “We definitely have a lineup. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m really excited about seeing our guys up front, on the offensive and defensive line, performing at a high level.”
Whittemore said that how the Bobcats play in the trenches will determine their success in 2021.
“For us to play at the level that we want to play at, which is championship level, we’re going to have to play good on both sides of the ball up front,” he said. “Our defensive line and offensive line are going to have to set the tone. That’s how we figure our success will be driven.”
2021 Buchholz Football Schedule
Friday, Aug. 27 - at Trinity Catholic (Ocala), 7 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 3 – at Sandalwood (Jacksonville), 6 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 10 - vs. Eastside (Gainesville), 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Sept. 17 – vs. Cardinal Gibbons (Fort Lauderdale), 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 1 – vs. Leon (Tallahassee), 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Oct. 7 – at Gainesville, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 15 – at Chiles (Tallahassee), 7 p.m.
Friday, Oct. 22 – vs. Bolles (Jacksonville), 7:30 p.m.*
Friday, Oct. 29 – vs. Forest (Ocala), 7:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 5 – at Bartram Trail (St. Johns), 7 p.m.