The Hilton Head Island High football team spent most of the last month facing off against one another. The Seahawks didn't have much of a choice to do anything much beyond that.
Hilton Head High was limited to just one preseason scrimmage -- a lopsided defeat at the hands of Beaufort High on Aug. 10 -- due to a probation handed down by the S.C. High School League in April. That lack of contact with teams outside of Hilton Head Island Community Stadium means few know what to expect from the new-look Seahawks in 2012.
But that will all change tonight, as the coach B.J. Payne era begins against Whale Branch Early College High School at 7:30 p.m.
"I don't think we know what we're going to do this year either yet," senior wide receiver Adam Orischak said last week. "We haven't really had a full test yet. We're shooting to obviously win as many games as we can and try to break .500, get in the playoffs and see if we can make a run."
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The Seahawks' shot at a plus-.500 record will start against the Warriors, who dropped a 50-0 contest at Bluffton in last week's season opener. Payne and his staff were on hand to scout that game, giving the Seahawks plenty to discuss over the last several days.
"Those are the teams that make their greatest strides from week one to week two," Payne said. " ... You find out who can play on Friday night and who to depend on. We're going to see a much better team."
Jerry Hatcher certainly hopes that is the case. The Warriors' first-year coach said his team is wary of Seahawks quarterback Michael Julian, who became a coveted recruit during the offseason.
But Hatcher was much more concerned with his team's tackling issues during the loss to Bluffton. On Monday, Hatcher shelved talk of Julian and the Seahawks in favor of some fundamental work.
The Warriors earned a refresher on each phase of a tackle. As is Hatcher's style, the lesson was detailed.
"The process -- stepping on the toes, dipping the hips, hitting on the rise, grabbing cloth and going down with your tackle," Hatcher said. "We've got kids around here who think tackling is trying to grab somebody with your arms and swing them to the ground."
Hatcher's defense will need to be at its best to slow down the Seahawks, who will work out of an up-tempo spread formation this season.
"We're all excited and getting conditioned for it," Orischak said. "It's going to be a fast, no-huddle. It's something crazy. We're all looking forward to it. A lot of it is the same stuff from last year but he's also brought in some new stuff. We've got a lot of talent coming back, so we're excited."
TONIGHT'S OTHER GAMES
Ridgeland-Hardeeville at Bluffton (1-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: First meeting
The skinny: This game looks like a mismatch and probably is, but Ridgeland-Hardeeville's speed could make it at least a little interesting. Bluffton coach Ken Cribb said he judges "schools by their program rather than their class. Hardeeville and Ridgeland already both have great athletes and now they're combined," pointing out Ridgeland scored first last year and that the consolidated school is loaded with good athletes. But Class 2-A Ridgeland-Hardeeville hasn't faced any adversity on the field, yet, and Class 4-A Bluffton already has a game under its belt. Factor in that the Bobcats haven't lost at home since the day after Thanksgiving 2010, and the Jaguards task looks tall.
Players to watch: Bluffton quarterback C.J. Frazier is one player Ridgeland-Hardeeville will have to account for. He threw for four touchdowns and ran for another last week. Both coaches were also impressed by the play of junior Gerald Roberson at the wing last week.
Keys to the game: On Thursday, Jaguars coach Blake Raley ran down the short list of things his team needs to do to beat Bluffton.
"One, we can't turn the ball over. Two, we have to limit their big plays. Unfortunately, I don't think there is a three," he said. "It's hard to make them one-dimensional. Usually you want to shut one phase of their offense down. We'd like to use a lot of clock and put some points on the board. We have to slow them down a little bit with our offense."
Estill (5-6 in 2011) at Battery Creek (1-9 in 2011), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Battery Creek won 21-16
The skinny: To move toward their goal of a winning season, the Dolphins will need to win games like these. The Class 1-A Gators provide a good chance to ease into the season. Estill shows a 3-5 look on defense now, after running a 4-4, Battery Creek coach Jim Shuman said. The Dolphins' injury report is clean.
Players to watch: Battery Creek WR Teyvon Jennette is one of the few returning offensive starters. While the Dolphins will rely heavily on the run, Jennette will be the guy looked to for a big play, when needed. Sophmore QB Raekwon Smalls is expected to earn his first varsity start. Junior Zach Mahan is also in the mix.
Key to the game: Win the battle up front. Estill has a big nose guard the Dolphins offensive line will try to control. Battery Creek coach Jim Shuman believes his defensive line is bigger than the Gators' offensive unit and that it will need to take advantage. Dolphins DE Willie Doe should lead the way.
Beaufort High (5-6 in 2011) at Wando (7-6 in 2011), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Eagles lost at Wando 43-21
The skinny: Not the typical opener for Beaufort High. This one is stout. Of their 2011 losses, the Eagles' loss to Wando was by the biggest margin. Wando returns two running backs and four starters on its offensive line, 11 starters overall, according to the Post and Courier.
Players to watch: Though battling injury, Beaufort High RB JaClay Mixon (661 yards, 4 TDs in 2011) is the man now that D'Vonta Cohen moved on. He could play a variety of positions on offense and special teams. If all goes according to coach Mark Clifford's plan, TE Stephen Baggett (7 catches, 140 yards in 2011) should be more in the mix as a receiver. Wando RB Cam Rouse rushed for more than 600 yards and 7 TDs in 2011, according to the Post and Courier.
Key to the game: With all Wando has back on the offensive side, and the number of points in manufactured in 2011, the key will be how Beaufort High's defense performs. Senior safety Zach Brown and the Eagles' other defensive backs will have to be ready for senior QB Christian Hart.
Thomas Heyward (1-0) at Bible Baptist (1-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: The Rebels won 21-0 in 2011.
The skinny: Bible Baptist defeated St. Andrew's 42-18 last week in a game where the Braves turned the ball over three times. Coach Nic Shuford thinks the Rebels are on the right track to reach their goal of a region championship and a shot at a state championship after last week's win over SCISAA Class 3-A Orangeburg Prep. "We're on the right track. It was a god win, everybody enjoyed it. The film showed us a lot of things we've still got to work on.
Players to watch: Shuford calls Bible Baptist junior quarterbacck Keynnard Campbell the "most dangerous guy they've got. He can throw it a mile but the real wory is him breaking contain." On the Rebels' side, Ryan Day and JD Tuten combined for 299 yards and two touchdowns on 47 carries.
Key to the game: The Rebels will have to stay disciplined on defense and stay in their lanes. They can't let a scrambling Campbell beat them. According to Shuford, Thomas Heyward needs to focus, as well, on finishing and converting long drives into points on the board.
Hilton Head Prep (5-5 in 2011) at Colleton Prep Academy (1-0), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Dolphins lost at Colleton Prep, 59-50.
The skinny: The Dolphins' new era under head coach Kevin Wald begins in Walterboro, as Hilton Head Prep takes on a War Hawks team that has won nine straight dating back to last September. Colleton Prep, which captured the SCISAA Class-A title last fall, dismantled Dillon Christian last week, 35-0.
Players to watch: War Hawks senior FB Heath Fisk, who scored three touchdowns and blocked a punt in last week's win, is the primary ball carrier for Colleton Prep. The 240-pound load weighs 30 pounds more than the Dolphins' heaviest player. Prep will look toward LB Austin Baker, who led the Dolphins with 104 tackles last year, to slow down the War Hawks' run-first attack.
Key to the game: Wald said Colleton Prep only threw about five times through the first three quarters in last week's victory, so the Dolphins will need to shut down the ground game to have a shot. Hilton Head Prep's team speed is much better than that of the War Hawks, Wald said, so the Dolphins will need to get the ball to their play-makers in open space in order to create big plays.
Beaufort Academy (3-8 in 2011) at Jefferson Davis Academy (1-9 in 2011), 7:30 p.m.
Last meeting: Beaufort Academy won 56-0
The skinny: This is one the Eagles should notch to begin building their season. The young Raiders, two seasons removed from a state title, are still rebuilding. But Beaufort Academy coach Wheatley Alford expects more of a fight.
Players to watch: Eagles senior QB Gibson Achurch (1,571 yards passing, 12 TDs in 2011) is the guy for Beaufort Academy. He'll be watching for signs of development from new skill position players like RB Charlie Humphries and WR Jack Dailey.
Key to the game: Show up like practice. Alford has been pleased with the Eagles this week. He doesn't want them to regress for the season-opener, especially with a great opportunity to start the season with a victory.