B.J. Payne is, if nothing else, refreshingly honest.
Asked what his expectations were for the season, he admitted he just didn't know. 2-9? 9-2? The way Payne sees it, each is within the realm of possibility. But in taking stock of Hilton Head Island team that will take the field Friday against Ridgeland-Hardeeville, Payne thinks things might be falling into place.
"We're happy with where we are," Payne said. "We're young, with talented kids. I think that's going to be the biggest thing for us this year, is, how are those kids that are extremely talented and young going to play this year? I think we have six kids on our team with [Division I] offers and only one of them is going to be a senior."
The Seahawks will look to get out of the blocks quickly, but fast starts aren't anything new on the island. Last year, they surged to a 7-0 record, including a white-knuckle win over rival Bluffton, before injuries and an emotional letdown led to an 0-4 finish.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Part of that was a crucial series of injuries to projected starting quarterback Aidan Hegarty, who missed nearly all of last season after breaking a bone in his hand and injuring his foot. His foot speed and ability to escape trouble will be a welcome addition to an offense that has to replace departed running back Khalil Lewis.
"He's done a great job this offseason getting himself ready," Payne said of Hegarty, who has added about 30 pounds to his frame. "If he gets a crease, he's gone. We've had to really work some fundamental stuff in his motion. What he really brings to the table won't show up until the first game."
If Hegarty's throwing is improved, it's all the better for the Seahawks, who boast perhaps the two most dangerous receivers in the area. Senior Aaron Frazier is the known commodity, a fiercely-competitive speedster who isn't afraid to go up against anyone.
Then there's Tyler Hamilton, only a sophomore but already the subject of some close scrutiny from big schools. Payne said the likes of Tennessee and West Virginia have already come calling, and things this could be a breakout year for Hamilton.
Sophomore P.J. Franklin will man the backfield after returning from a broken bone that forced him to miss all of last season.
"P.J. Is more of a slasher," Payne said. "Good vision, good speed, very comfortable."
If Hilton Head is to capitalize on some of the progress they've made in recent years -- fast starts, a crucial rivalry win, success in producing college recruits -- and translate that to this year's play on the field, it might come down to leaning on the strength of a talented defense.
Despite losing star defensive tackle Poona Ford, Payne likes what he has. According to Payne, corners Jestin Morrow and John "Bacon" Baty and safeties Jeremiah Maddox, Jose Gaytan and Tyliek Smith have all received at least one Division I offer. And none of them are seniors.
The junior Morrow may be the best prospect of the bunch, but each brings something different to the table. The most crucial task for Payne is to convince them to believe in their abilities and get the most of that potential.
"It's time to grow up," Payne said. "It's time. You have to understand how good you really are."
Growing up seems to be the theme for the Seahawks, who now have the kind of talent to put a run together, even in a tough region. Payne knows that 2015 could be the year it all comes together, but if everything jells a year ahead of schedule, then so much the better.
"The signs are there," Payne said. But being 5-1, just beating Bluffton is not good enough. I don't know if this year is going to be that year, but next couple of years, we've got a chance to be really special."
Stadium: Hilton Head Island Community Stadium
Coach (years at school): B.J. Payne (3rd year, 12-10)
2013 results: 7-4, 2-3 Region 8-AAA. Lost to Socastee, 31-6, in 1st round of the Class 3-A playoffs
Key losses: DT Poona Ford; RB Khalil Lewis
Key returners: QB Aidan Hegarty; CB Jestin Morrow; WR Aaron Frazier; WR Tyler Hamilton; CB John Baty; S Jeremiah Maddox
Key newcomers: WR DeAngelo Clark (transfer from HHCA); RB P.J. Franklin (injured, did not play in 2013); WR Jordan Rozek
KEYS TO THE SEASON
Keep Hegarty healthy: Payne had to work without his starting QB last year, and he wants to avoid a repeat experience this time. Hegarty has the tools to do some good things, so if the Seahawks want to push forward, his staying on the field will be critical.
No second guessing: With five above-average players manning the second-level defensively, the Seahawks should improve their ability to stop the ball. Morrow and Baty form a tough tandem to throw on, and Payne is very confident in his secondary's ability to keep quarterbacks honest.
Franklin's time: Khalil Lewis was a big reason the Seahawks were able to maintain good performances even without Hegarty. The impetus may not fall on Franklin as heavily with two star wide-outs to choose from, but he'll be expected to carry the load at running back.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Offense -- Aidan Hegarty, QB
It's an easy selection here. Payne is ready to see what his QB can do after a season filled with injuries. Hegarty has added weight in the offseason and worked hard on his throwing motion. It's time to see if that has paid off.
Defense -- John Baty, CB
He might have the best nickname in the area, "Bacon," and he's one of the Seahawks' lockdown defenders. He's got two years of experience under his belt and will be ready to contend with the other team's best receiver on a weekly basis. After all, he faces the likes of Frazier in practice.
Aug. 30 @ Whale Branch W, 52-16
Sept. 6 @ Ridgeland-Hardeeville W, 47-6
Sept. 13 BATTERY CREEK W, 48-20
Sept. 19 WADE HAMPTON W, 34-14
Sept. 27 BLUFFTON W, 33-32
Oct. 4 @ Stall W, 35-14
Oct. 11 JAMES ISLAND, W, 27-13
Oct. 18 @ Orangeburg-Wilkinson L, 33-7
Oct. 25 @ Hanahan L, 55-21
Nov. 1 BERKELEY L, 26-6
Nov. 8 @ Socastee L, 31-6*
HOME GAMES in CAPS (*Playoff game)
Date Opponent Time
Aug. 22 RIDGELAND-HARDEEVILLE 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 29 WHALE BRANCH 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 5 at West Ashley 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Battery Creek 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 26 at Bluffton 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Hanahan 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 10 BERKELEY 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 17 at Beaufort 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 24 ORANGEBURG-WILKINSON 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 31 STALL 7:30 p.m.
HOME GAMES in CAPS
Number Player Position Height Weight Year
2 Thomas Farrell LB/K 6-2 195 Sr
3 Da'Jon Robinson WR/DB 5-8 145 Soph
4 Jose Gaytan LB/RB 5-10 170 Soph
5 Jordan Rozek WR/DB 5-8 165 Sr.
6 Tyler Hamilton WR/DB 5-10 150 Soph.
7 James Wiggins RB/LB 6-0 220 Sr.
8 Trey Days WR/DB 5-8 160 Jr.
9 John Bell WR 5-7 155 Soph
10 Jestin Morrow WR/DB 5-10 160 Jr.
11 Aaron Frazier WR/DB 6 165 Sr
12 Aidan Hegarty QB/K 6-3 195 Jr
13 Collin Kaiser QB 5-10 165 Fr
14 Ta'quan Pope RB/LB 6 150 Soph
16 Chris Washington WR 5-8 140 Fr
17 Ty'Wuan Pope WR/S 5-10 140 Fr
19 Benton Soule DE 5-10 150 Soph
20 Damani Mitchell RB/LB 5-10 175 Fr
21 DeAngelo Clark WR/DB 5-11 170 Sr
22 PJ Franklin RB/DB 5-8 155 Soph
23 Tyliek Smith RB/DB 5-11 175 Jr
24 Tyreke Young WR 6-1 180 Fr
25 Logan Toomer LB 5-11 165 Soph
26 Devon Williams LB 5-10 185 Jr
27 DT Smith LB/RB 5-8 155 Soph
28 Jeremiah Maddox WR/DB 6 175 Jr
29 Darius Hill WR 5-5 140 Fr
30 John "Bacon" Baty FB 6 160 Jr
31 Lance Jackson WR 5-8 150 Fr
32 Martin Duane WR/DB 6-2 190 Jr
34 James Roberts LB 5-5 140 Fr
36 De'Angelo Wing DB 5-9 140 Fr
38 Taj Hamilton LB 5-6 125 Fr
39 Steven Chisolm WR/DB 5-8 150 Fr
40 Brandon Brinson LB 6 160 Jr
41 Donnie Williams RB 5-7 140 Fr
42 Landon Jenkins S 5-5 140 Fr
44 Miles Wedeking LB 5-10 145 Soph
46 Alex Braden S/WR 5-8 150 Fr
48 Kellan Welch LB 5-6 140 Fr
51 Jackson Warren OL/DL 6 200 Soph
55 Tahj Smith OL/DL 5-10 260 Sr
56 Cedric Knighton OL/DL 6 280 Soph
57 Markus Merritt OL/DL 5-11 185 Sr
58 Devin Chisolm OL/DL 5-9 180 Soph
61 Zach Ballard OL/DL 6-2 195 Sr
62 Hayden Riley OL/DL 6-2 230 Jr
64 Sam Jones OL/DL 6-1 250 Sr
66 Jerome Maddox OL/DL 6 265 Sr
69 Lenard White OL/DL 6-1 255 Sr
72 Harvey King OL/DL 6-2 265 Soph
74 Joey Kurkul OL/DL 6-1 270 Fr
75 Alex Perez OL 5-8 230 Jr
77 Skyler Korineck OL/DL 6 240 Jr
78 Curtis Johnson OL/DL 6 200 Jr
79 Trevor Gray OL/DL 5-9 330 Soph
88 Savannah Reier K 5-7 - Jr
- River Carter QB/WR 6-6 160 Jr.