BJ Payne calls sending players to the next level his “why” — the reason he has devoted his life to coaching high school football — and he got a big payoff in that department this year.
Payne’s dedication to getting players recruited was on full display Wednesday afternoon, as 10 Seahawks, including seven football players, signed to take their talents to the collegiate stage at the Hilton Head Island High School media center.
“I am proud to see them get the opportunity to play at the next level, realize their dreams, and know that they have a lot of work in front of them,” Payne said. “As a coaching staff, we put a lot of time into helping them accomplish those dreams and being able to see their reactions with their families is a really special thing.”
The signees were led by defensive standout Cole DeMarzo, who will join the ranks of the Michigan State Spartans. DeMarzo, a menace all around the defensive side, finished his senior season with 102 tackles, three sacks, and two interceptions.
“I expect big things from Cole,” Payne said. “He’s going to play outside linebacker and they’re expecting him to come in and contribute right away. He is a very cerebral player and has a high football IQ, so he can learn very quickly. It’s a great situation for him.”
DeMarzo officially signed with the Spartans during a group ceremony the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas in December, but participating in the ceremony at HHIHS helped make it feel more real.
“I’ve had so much hard work through years of training, games, and injuries and it feels like a big accomplishment,” said DeMarzo.
Quarterback Gaston Moore will travel south to UCF as a preferred walk-on after a fantastic season in which he ranked second in the Lowco with 2,016 passing yards with 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions, leading the Seahawks to a Bridge Bowl victory and a playoff berth.
“Gaston had some things to work on after his junior year,” Payne said. “He took the bull by the horns and it got him to where he wanted to be. He has a huge ceiling and upside as he continues on.”
Moore passed up substantial scholarship offers to accept a preferred walk-on spot with the Golden Knights in hopes of playing his way into a scholarship.
“I fell in love with the campus and everything just fit in with me,” Moore said. “I’m excited to compete and work my tail off to try to get to where I want to be.”
Christian Miller, a huge asset to the Hilton Head secondary, will join the Runnin’ Bulldogs of Gardner-Webb. He led the Lowco with 16 pass breakups this past year along with three interceptions.
“Gardner-Webb is a great environment,” Payne said. “He’s an excellent student and with the academics there and the ability to play in a very good Southern Conference, it’s a great fit for him and I know he’s very excited about it.”
Those three were joined by offensive linemen Alfred Young (Limestone) and Conrad Alford (Pikeville), linebacker Elijah Thompson (Limestone), and linebacker/running back Eli Hickey (Morehead State).
“Elijah, Conrad, and Alfred are guys who have really only played for two years and there is huge upside for them,” Payne said. “Eli is an aggressive player and throws his body all over the place. This is a very special and close-knit group of seniors. They put in the work and were rewarded for it.”
Joining the football players in signing were golfer Jack Lashinger (Erskine), track runner Max Baez (Queens), and baseball player JR Richardson (Erskine).
Story by Wes Kerr / Photo by MB Lyons
Wes Kerr is a graduate of Hilton Head Island High School and Davidson College. He has a passion for statistics and analytics.