BJ Payne has always thrived in the face of challenges. But never had he even considered facing something like this. The Hilton Head Island Seahawks were all set to open their season at home two weeks ago – until COVID-19 sent those plans awry. Players and coaches were promptly sent into quarantine after a positive test was announced. Now, with every level of vigilance and nervousness in place, the Seahawks will prepare to open an unprecedented season this Friday night against their biggest rivals.
When BJ Payne’s group takes the field in Bluffton, the lineup will have a new look as well, with just three returning starters on offense coupled with only four on defense. Gaston Moore is on to the next level as a UCF Knight, meaning Sam Summa will step back into the Lowco spotlight at quarterback. Summa thrived at John Paul II in 2017 and 2018 before he took the bridge onto the island last year. An understudy behind Moore a season ago, Summa is primed to be just the veteran leader the Seahawks are looking for, especially in a region loaded with defensive talent.
The squad will return starting running back Lavarus Brown along with receiver Evan Elliott, who emerged as a reliable wideout last year. The offensive line will be a major question mark. Tackle Ryan Clark will have major shoes to fill after the losses of both outstanding linemen Alfred Young and Conrad Alford. The rest of the offense will have to be filled by new pieces, but we’ve seen Payne work his magic before building up young players. However, with a shortened preparation time this past offseason, it could be difficult for the Seahawks going straight into region play with an unproven offense. Success this year will rest on Summa’s ability to quickly find his groove and elevate the players around him.
It’ll be a major overhaul on the defensive side, too. The Seahawks graduated defensive superstar Cole Demarzo, who took his talents up to East Lansing and Michigan State. They’ll also have to replace Christian Miller and Eli Hickey, making up a difficult void to fill in the secondary. This year’s star on the defensive end is Jaylen Sneed, a potent junior linebacker with elite athleticism and tackling skills. Expect to see him flying all over the field and taking charge of a young defensive unit. Fellow junior Amare Ford will look to complement Sneed in what could be a breakout linebacking tandem. We may see some growing pains early in the defense, and it will be up to a few upperclassmen to set the bar for a very young side.
With only two playoff spots up for grabs in a difficult new region including powerhouse May River and a dangerous Beaufort squad, the Seahawks will have their work cut out for them to nab a spot in the postseason. But with a veteran quarterback at the helm who has certainly done it before partnered with one of the hardest-working coaches in the area, we certainly can’t count them out.
HILTON HEAD HIGH SEAHAWKS FOOTBALL
Coach: BJ Payne
Record at HHIHS: 52-38 (9th season)
2019 record: 5-5, 2-1 region (1st round of SCISA 4A Playoffs)
Top returners: LB Jaylen Sneed, RB Lavarus Brown, WR Evan Elliott, OL/DL Ryan Clark, LB Amare Ford
Notable losses: DB Cole DeMarzo, DB Christian Miller, OL Alfred Young, DB Eli Hickey, LB Elijah Thompson, OL Conrad Alford, K/P Jacob Weaver, QB Gaston Moore
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sam Summa, QB: After waiting behind standout senior Gaston Moore last season, it’s now time for Summa to take command of this Seahawk unit. He’s had the experience of starting two years for John Paul II, and he knows how to make the big decisions and close out games. Summa had the clutch gene from year one, throwing a pair of conversions in overtime to beat a tough Colleton Prep team on the way to the postseason. The next year, he led the Golden Warriors to the 2018 SCISA title game in just the team’s third year of 11-man football. BJ Payne and his coaching staff named him one of the greatest leaders they have seen at this level. If he can back up those qualities on the field, this young offensive core could take a giant leap forward.
Jaylen Sneed, LB/DE: After a whirlwind of offers came his way over the past few months including Alabama, Oklahoma, and Michigan, Sneed is ready to take his game a step further in 2020. He’s grown his athletic frame over the offseason, working out at least twice a day to get into peak shape for the start of a big junior season. His dedication to improving his form during quarantine will certainly reward him this year, as he looks to build off a sensational sophomore campaign, racking up 76 tackles and four sacks. Sneed is an aggressive playmaker who will look to shut down traffic on his side and make some momentum changing plays to give his squad a chance in a tough region.
Can the defense find a way to perform without last year’s senior captains?
Jaylen Sneed will be the star for the Seahawks to lean on in 2020, but it will be a tall task to replace the services of Cole DeMarzo, Christian Miller, Eli Hickey, and Elijah Thompson. With only one senior starting on the defensive side this year, the shortened 2020 season will provide a prime opportunity for some new talent to shine and give a supporting role for Sneed. Expect juniors Jayden Gilliam, Amare Ford, and Ryan Clark to take a step up this year: Gilliam taking on the task of filling big shoes at corner, Ford looking to complement Sneed at linebacker, and Clark leading the charge at defensive tackle as well as on the offensive line. If these three can make some quick strides, that could be instrumental for the Seahawks to stay competitive this year, and perhaps make a big leap forward in 2021. Payne saw them perform as leaders on their middle school team not too long ago, and those honed qualities will surely carry with them as they prepare to face some tough challenges at the varsity level.
REGION AND BEYOND
After the team’s original opener with Beaufort High was postponed to late-October, the Seahawks will start this unique season with the Bridge Bowl in Bluffton. Then, the ‘Hawks will head home for another pivotal game against region newcomers James Island. They’ll have to win both of those to have any chance at a postseason berth. If they can get it done, they’ll have their chance at knocking off May River at the Shark Tank and jumping into the top two. The hope is that the early games against lesser competition will give the ‘Hawks the experience needed to compete against the region’s best. If Summa can get hot right away and the defense steps up to a solid level, the Seahawks could be a dark horse in the postseason chase.
10/9 — at Bluffton
10/16 — vs James Island
10/23 — at May River
10/30 — vs Beaufort
11/6 — at Colleton County
Written by Wes Kerr / Photo by Jim Killian Photography