Some student-athletes captivate a community with their incredible play on the field, and then some go beyond and inspire a whole new generation. Poona Ford has done both.
I had the great pleasure of attending Hilton Head Island High with the future star, who quickly grew into a school-wide celebrity and was the heart and soul of a football team searching for a new identity. I witnessed his never-give-up work ethic from the start, striving to become the best out on the field no matter the task he was given.
Ford became a do-it-all player whose name seemingly got called on the loudspeaker every play. Soon enough, the letters and messages started coming in bunches to coach BJ Payne’s office. Poona quickly became the face of the program and Hilton Head High. I remember having lunch beside him one day and seeing the stud sort through a never-ending pile of letters from schools all over the country. He was proud of his individual success, but we all knew he wanted a little more.
The Lowcountry football scene in the early 2010s was dominated by Ken Cribb’s Bluffton Bobcats, who made it to the 2011 state championship game under star quarterback CJ Frazier. For five straight games, Bluffton absolutely toyed with the Seahawks, outscoring its Bridge Bowl rivals by a combined 209-29.
Then Poona’s senior year came along in the fall of 2013. After a dominant 4-0 start to the season, Ford didn’t want to ruin his final chance at taking down the Bobcats. The phenom delivered on both sides of the ball, powering in three touchdowns at fullback and dominating on the defensive line to pull out a miraculous upset. I don’t think that team would’ve come close without the drive and dedication of Ford building his strength and technique over the previous four years to push himself and his team to pull off an incredible story.
But Ford’s career, as we all know now, was just beginning. After initially committing to Louisville, he followed Charlie Strong to Texas and brought that unbeatable determination to the Big 12. At the beginning of his sophomore year, he officially cracked the starting lineup.
Every time the Longhorns needed an impact play to turn a game around, Poona rose to the occasion. Whether it was a tackle for loss, a forced fumble, or a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown, Ford always found that extra gear to get the job done. I always knew the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year had a shot at a potential NFL career, but when he was passed on in all 256 picks of the 2018 draft, it looked pretty much like the end of the road. But after being turned down again and again for not fitting that textbook size and frame, the Seattle Seahawks took a chance on Poona, and he seized the opportunity.
Many people don’t realize how difficult it is to make an NFL roster, let alone make it as an undrafted rookie. Even though all the odds were stacked up against him, I had that feeling in the back of my mind that if Poona kept up his fight that he showed back on the other end of the country at Hilton Head Island High School, maybe it could be enough.
Now, after three stellar years ranked as a top defensive lineman in the NFL by Pro Football Focus — right alongside the best like Aaron Donald — Ford is well on his way to a memorable, lengthy, and lucrative professional career. If you’re a fan of any of the other 31 teams in the league, you’ve probably been kicking yourself that your team didn’t find him first.
I couldn’t even root against him when he bottled up Christian McCaffrey in his grand homecoming to the Carolinas. Poona’s dominance at the point of attack creating opportunities to shut down the run game has elevated him to one of the most reliable defensive pieces in the league, and I can’t wait to see him keep doing it for at least another eight years, and maybe even longer.
But the greatest trait about Poona is that he never forgets where he came from. Whether it’s helping out at football camps or consoling the community after tragedies, Poona will always be the first man to lend a hand.
Poona Ford is living proof of what consistent hard work can do, and he is an amazing ambassador for all of us here in the Lowcountry.
And as the legend himself said, he still hasn’t hit his prime yet.
By Wes Kerr