Justin Gentry is blessed this week.
He’s coaching the South Carolina Shrine Bowl squad’s defensive line unit, annually one of the strongest parts of the Sandlappers’ team.
“It’s an easy group to coach,” he said. “They’re having a good time, and when it’s time to get serious they crank it up a notch. You don’t get to work with this type of athlete often and it’s fun.”
This year’s group includes Orangeburg-Wilkinson’s verbose Albert Huggins, who recently committed to Clemson, as well as Woodland defensive end Michael Barnett, originally a Florida State commit before flipping to Georgia. There’s also Fort Dorchester’s Eurndraus Bryant, a 6-foot-2, 320-pound woolly mammoth of a teenager who will play defensive tackle.
And there’s also Northwestern’s Chris Bouyer. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound defensive end isn’t as heralded as some of his line-mates, or as talkative as Huggins, but should prove very useful to Gentry and the Sandlappers this week.
“Chris is a lot quicker off the ball. He might be a little lighter, but he’s a very good technician and he does exactly what you tell him,” said Gentry. “Probably one of his greatest strengths is he’s played this defense before and he’s playing his position. A lot of these guys haven’t played that. But he’s a technique guy and weight doesn’t matter there if you play it right.”
Bouyer made 66 tackles this season, with 6.5 sacks and 10 quarterback pressures. He produced several big games earlier in the season, notching eight tackles and two sacks in the win over South Pointe, and seven tackles and 1.5 sacks in the season-opener against Byrnes.
“It’s been an honor practicing with a lot of D-I dudes. I room with one of them and he just showed me a couple of moves, so it’s good to learn, it’s a good experience and competition,” said Bouyer, who is rooming with Bryant.
After watching Bouyer practice on Tuesday, Northwestern defensive coordinator James Martin was encouraged.
“He took a lot of advantages of his quickness that a lot of people didn’t think he had initially,” said Martin. “I think going into this week, I think it will be really good for Chris to step up.”
Bouyer knows the defensive system that the S.C. Shrine Bowl squad is using. Martin said that Bouyer is doing the same things he’d do with the Trojans defense, pointing out blocking tight ends and formations. The familiarity with the system should increase his speed of play even further.
“We run a 4-3, sometimes we run a 3-4. They run an armband system similar to what we do,” said Martin. “Chris feels really comfortable, and just listening to the coaches, they feel the same way about him because he understands what they’re doing.”
Playing alongside blue chip prospects like Barnett and Huggins – and against offensive line prospects like Boiling Springs’ Noah Green (Clemson commit), Johnsonville’s Shaq Crouch (ECU), and Summerville’s Zack Bailey (South Carolina) – has been valuable for Bouyer in several ways. He’s getting better being around them, and it’s giving him an idea of where he stands.
“I think it just lets Chris know that if ‘I can go against these guys right now, I can go up against anybody,’” said Martin. “I think that’s what Chris needs now. Not getting those big-time offers like Clemson, but it just gives him that incentive to go out there and do really good.”
Bouyer currently holds offers from Campbell, East Tennessee State and Elon, as well as Catawba. He’s got other schools sniffing around too, including The Citadel. Bouyer said he’s “wide open” on any school interested in talking to him.
“He’s a tough guy, he puts his nose right in there and gets after it from the minute we come on the field,” said Gentry. “He’s got a great game-face mentality and he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Gentry said he’d been blessed this week, and it looks like Bouyer has been too.
The Shrine Bowl has given him a chance to “show that I can play with the best competition in South Carolina. It don’t matter about size; just keep that motor going.”