High School Football

Hilton Head High's Poona Ford sticks by Strong, chooses Texas

sfastenau@beaufortgazette.com
mmccombs@islandpacket.com
February 5, 2014 

Poona Ford is going to Texas.

The Hilton Head Island High School defensive lineman announced his decision Wednesday via a YouTube video posted to the ESPNU Twitter account. Ford reached under a table, pulled on a Longhorns cap and flashed the "Hook 'em" sign.

Ford follows Longhorns coach Charlie Strong, who left Louisville at the beginning of the year. Ford had committed to Louisville in August before withdrawing his commitment when Strong left.

"He just welcomed me with open arms in Texas," Ford said.

Missouri and Purdue had also hoped to land Ford, rated a four-star prospect by the major recruiting services. Ford took official visits this month to Texas, Oregon, Purdue and Missouri.

Strong visited Ford last week before the player flew to Missouri.

The Seahawks senior was The Beaufort Gazette and The Island Packet All-Area Defensive Player of the Year after earning a Shrine Bowl nod. He finished with 135 tackles his senior season, with 28 for a loss and seven sacks. That followed a monster junior season during which he posted 154 tackles, 44 for loss and 10 sacks.

Ford's announcement came on ESPNU from a television studio in Charlotte, N.C. The fact that he had to drive 250 miles just to announce his decision was symbolic of just how long and, sometimes unpleasant, his recruiting process had become.

"It's just so stressful," a relieved Ford said Wednesday night at the Seahawks' Signing Day celebration at the high school. "Coaches call you daily. They try to convince you. If you wait until signing day, they really start pressuring you. It's just not good."

Louisville had been where Ford wanted to be, almost from the start. While on a summer trip to the Midwest to visit several schools, he chose to visit Louisville instead of spending a day at camp at Indiana.

When he got to Louisville, Strong spent the entire day with him. As a result, Ford fell in love with the Cardinals and forged a strong bond with their head coach.

Initially, members of Ford's family had hoped he would stay closer to the Lowcountry.

"My family didn't want me to be too far away from home," Ford said. "But after they met Coach Strong, they believed he would take care of me and help me do what I needed to do to be successful."

Ford committed to the Cardinals at the beginning of the school year without taking an official visit to in-state powers Clemson or South Carolina. As a result, Ford and his coach, B.J. Payne, took a beating on message boards and Twitter, particularly from South Carolina fans who thought Payne was steering the prospect away from the Gamecocks.

"It was pretty tough," said Kaylon Ford, Poona's father. "I told him basically to stay prayed up. In spite of what people may say, just overlook that and don't worry about it. It's not really important. Other than that, you can see, he's a humble kid. He's been getting a lot of tweets and comments about him not going to USC, but I told him lean on God."

Ford did his best to ignore the chatter.

"I just left them alone," Poona Ford said. "I just gave them the cold shoulder like they weren't even there."

He also turned in a stellar senior season, helping lift his team to a 7-4 record, the Seahawks' most wins in a year since 2008. He was at his best in a thrilling 33-32 win over rival Bluffton in the Bridge Bowl, when he scored three times as a tailback while also recording four tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

"He's the best player I've ever coached," Payne said. "He finishes. That's not something you hear about defensive linemen. Usually, that's reserved for linebackers and safeties."

But at season's end, Poona Ford's world was in upheaval again. After Mack Brown was let go as head coach at Texas, the rumors became truth when Strong left Louisville for the lucrative Longhorns job.

He waited nearly a week, and despite reports that new Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino had been in touch with some Cardinals commitments, no one called Poona Ford.

"He was hurt by it because he was expecting them to call," Kaylon Ford said. "He felt comfortable there."

Disappointed, Poona Ford re-opened his recruiting. Strong once again offered him, this time for Texas, and he flirted with Missouri and Purdue, as well, visiting all three.

Once again, he didn't visit South Carolina, reportedly canceling a scheduled visit.

Once again, Gamecocks fans blamed Payne for Ford's decision.

"I can't put that on my coach," Poona Ford said. "I don't know why they don't like me.They're just salty, I guess. They're just mad that I didn't choose in-state. It was really my decision. There wasn't anything he had to do with it. It was my decision, and I just didn't want to stay in-state."

Ultimately, having considered his options, Poona Ford again went with Strong, choosing the Longhorns.

"I didn't even have an offer from Texas before he got there," Poona Ford said. "... He let us know he wanted me there and he wanted me to be a Longhorn."

"I think it's a great fit for him," Payne said. "He's had a relationship with Charlie Strong for almost a year now. I know he's excited and his family is excited."

With the decision made, Poona Ford is just happy to be through with the whole process.

"I can just relax and thank God it's all over and just enjoy it."

2014 AREA COMMITMENTS/SIGNEES

(*Indicates schools have not yet included athletes on their official list of signees.)

  • Football

    TE Stephen Baggett, Beaufort High, East Carolina

    *WR Vinny Boni, Bluffton, Limestone

    DL Mike Davis, Bluffton, Newberry

    DL K.J. Ford, Bluffton, James Madison

    OL Taylor Gordon, Bluffton, Savannah State

    *LB Jason Green, Battery Creek, Limestone

    RB Khalil Lewis, Hilton Head Island, Gardner-Webb

    *ATH Jae Middleton, Bluffton, Savannah State

    *WR Gerald Roberson, Bluffton, Newberry

    Baseball

    Dillon Heffner, Hilton Head Island, USC Sumter

    Michael Perez, Hilton Head Island, USC Salkehatchie

    Cross Country

    *Ciara McMahon, Hilton Head Island, Wofford

    Girls soccer

    Amanda Green, Hilton Head Island, Armstrong Atlantic

    Ashley Green, Hilton Head Island, Armstrong Atlantic

    Kitava Stout, Bluffton, LImestone

    Miranda Weslake, Beaufort Academy, Clemson

    Volleyball

    Jordan Franklin, Bluffton, Kings

    Competitive Cheer

    Mackenzie Hrobar, Hilton Head Island, Limestone

    The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

    Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service