No local high school football team in the bigger classifications has been better in the last three seasons than the Buchholz Bobcats.
In 2022, Buchholz became part of the new 4S classification. The Bobcats advanced to the state semifinal round for the second straight year. Buchholz rallied but came up short on the road at Venice in a 42-35 back-and-forth classic as the Bobcats’ season ended at 10-3.
Buchholz hopes to continue its run of success in 2023, but first the Bobcats will have to deal with two big losses and both their names end in Whittemore.
First, head coach Mark Whittemore stepped down after 11 years as a head coach, 16 seasons as an assistant and four years as a player at Buchholz.
That opening was quickly filled by defensive coordinator Chuck Bell, another Buchholz alumn, who steps into the head coach's position.
The other loss for the Bobcats is going to be even harder to fill.
Creed Whittemore, who had been the Bobcats quarterback since his freshman year and became the first Alachua County player to win the Mr. Football Award in 2022, graduated and moved on to Mississippi State.
Creed Whittemore threw for 2,693 yards with 35 touchdowns through the air and rushed for 1,285 yards and another 17 scores on the ground.
"You can't replace Mr. Football in the state of Florida," Bell said. "The first winner of that award in Alachua County history, obviously Creed has a special place in our program's history."
But according to Bell, there is one name that stands next to Creed Whittemore on the "Mount Rushmore," as he calls it, of Buchholz football.
"One player that is alongside Creed on the Mount Rushmore of Buchholz football is probably Doug Johnson," Bell said. "It's a blessing to have his son, Trace, who will be stepping in as our quarterback this fall."
Johnson is a sophomore as he starts his first Buchholz game in a tough assignment on the road against Columbia (Lake City) on Aug. 25. Bell thinks his young quarterback is ready.
"I've never been around a sophomore with the maturity, the composure and the poise Trace shows," Bell said. "He's the guy that will be one of these four- or five-star quarterback recruits. We are in good hands in the quarterback position."
Whittemore was the Bobcats leading rusher in 2022. Their second leading rusher, Quinton Cutler, returns for his senior season this fall. Cutler rushed for 1,001 yards and added 377 yards receiving while tallying 12 touchdowns.
Defense has been the calling card of the Buchholz teams through the years, and that's no exception in 2023. Senior defensive lineman Kendall Jackson and senior outside linebacker Thomas Weinhardt return to lead the Bobcats' defense this fall.
"We have scored some points, but probably where we have the most success over the last few years is on the defensive line," Bell said. "We do a great job of creating some havoc for offenses. Everyone kind of does the same thing but we are pretty unique in what we do up front, and we have been able to find some success on the D-line."
The Bobcats also picked up a huge transfer this summer when linebacker Myles Graham transferred from Woodward Academy in Atlanta (GA). Graham, who is a four-star linebacker according to 247Sports, and a Gator commit.
"This offseason and spring have kind of been a grind with the new coaching staff," Jackson said. "We know that Coach Bell will push us to go even harder, and he's a great coach."
While Buchholz will again have plenty of speed, they don't plan on getting pushed around by opposing teams either.
"In the offseason we have made maybe a rededication to the weight room at Buchholz," Bell said. "We have relied heavily the last few years on being better at the skill positions than most teams. We have proven that, but I wanted to get back to some of the roots of Buchholz. The blue-collar mentality and the idea that we won't be pushed around by anybody at Buchholz anymore."
After the opener at Columbia, Buchholz once again faces a gauntlet of a schedule with games against playoff teams Riverview Sarasota, Eastside, Creekside, Vanguard, Bartram Trail and Trinity Catholic.
"Again, it will be one of the toughest schedules in the state," Bell said. "Unfortunately, when you become as successful as we have become over the last few years, finding teams in Alachua County and Marion County that are willing to play us has become more and more difficult."