Seahawks on the rise as Thursday night game for Hilton Head Island High approaches

ccox@islandpacket.comSeptember 19, 2013 

B.J. Payne still hears those shouts coming from cars whizzing by School Road as his Hilton Head Island High football team practices on the adjacent field. But the subject matter has changed since his first year on the job of rebuilding the Seahawks program.

"People used to drive by screaming obscenities at us," he said. "'You guys (stink), bleep this, bleep that.' Now they're driving by honking their horn going, 'Hey, go get 'em, guys!' "

Admittedly, those obscenities during Seahawks practices likely weren't coming from Hilton Head High supporters, Payne said. But its silence this year still provides an indication of the team's recent success.

Times have changed since Payne first took over for then-coach Tim Singleton 20 months ago. The Hilton Head High coach says he is stopped more often by strangers giving well wishes and sees a bigger fan turnout on Friday nights. Last week's win over Battery Creek was the school's largest non-Bluffton turnout in "several years."

"It's one of those things where everybody said, 'Put a winner on my field and we'll show up,' " Payne said.

"And we've done that."

Indeed, the Seahawks are winning. The team is off to its first 3-0 start since 1989, two years before Hilton Head High played in its first and only state championship. Payne's team will go for a 4-0 start, also accomplished in 1989, tonight at 7:30 against Wade Hampton.

The game was moved up a day to accommodate WSAV-TV. That naturally means the Seahawks will get an additional day to prepare for next week's anticipated Bridge Bowl matchup with Bluffton.

"We haven't had the greatest week of practice, but I don't think that's anything that comes with a lack of focus or anything like that," said Payne, referencing the Bobcats game. "This past weekend was good, our film was good, our scouting report was good.

"I think it's just getting used to the schedule and getting used to the game because everything moves up a day."

The Red Devils (2-1) will be the latest test on the ground for the Hilton Head High front seven, which has already faced run-heavy offenses such as Battery Creek and Whale Branch Early College High School. Wade Hampton is a physical team that can power through opponents using the I-formation while also showing some spread looks, Payne said.

So far, the Seahawks defense has silenced some of its critics through its unblemished start. Hilton Head High is surrending just 14 points per game after giving up an average of 55 points to close out a four-game losing streak in 2012.

Defensive tackle Poona Ford has led the way with 38 tackles and four tackles for loss while Marcus Merritt and Michael Ruth have chipped in an additional nine stops for loss.

"Our kids are hanging their head on defense this year and using it as a rallying point," Payne said. "Obviously we took our lumps there last year."

Khalil Lewis should be good to go at tailback, Payne said, despite suffering from flu-like symptoms earlier in the week. He will pace what has been an efficient Seahawks offense looking to wear down the thin Red Devils depth.

"We just have to establish our tempo and get going," Payne said. "... They have a lot of two-way players, their linemen play both ways. We just have to get into our style of play and try to wear them down."

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