Poona Ford never forgot about the special island he calls home. And on Saturday afternoon, the Lowco’s own NFL star came back to spend the day with us.
The event entitled “Soar Day” was a celebration of a young man raised right here on Hilton Head Island who defied all odds every step of the way to become a standout defensive lineman for the Seattle Seahawks.
It was an afternoon to commemorate his incredible journey with the people who helped him get there while giving an opportunity for the next generation to meet a local legend and learn what it takes to pursue a dream. Complete with free food, games, and live music alongside the majestic marsh at Shelter Cove Community Park, Soar Day was an encapsulation of Ford’s love for the Lowcountry and what this amazing place gave him.
“It’s a big thank you for all the support in my career from high school up through college,” Ford said. “Just wanted to tell my community how much I appreciate them. I never forget home. It would be a shame if you forgot where you came from. That’s why I’m doing this event, to let people know I’m from here and I don’t ever forget that.”
It wasn’t too long ago when Poona and I were fellow students at Hilton Head Island High. The Seahawk star honed his unbeatable work ethic and determination under head coach BJ Payne and blossomed over his final two seasons. Not only was he a hero on the field, but he also was an amazing friend, mentor, and leader to all of us at HHIHS.
Poona always had a smiling face in the hallways and inspired us all to give each day our best no matter what challenges lay ahead. When I wished him the best of luck before he began his college career at Texas, even I didn’t think I’d be looking at an NFL starter seven years later.
He faced hurdle after hurdle, and he defied the doubters at every step of the way. The refrain of, “He’s too short” echoed through the training fields from high school to college to the NFL, but it never deferred the drive that propelled Ford. After the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year went shockingly undrafted, Poona kept his focus, visualized his goal, and accomplished the impossible.
“I just showed them I could do my job and showed them I know all the plays in the playbook and can be trusted on defense,” Ford said.
Three years later, he’s become the heart of a top-five run defense in Seattle and is fresh off signing a well-deserved two-year contract with Pete Carroll’s club. But before putting together his finishing touches in preparation for his fourth NFL season, Ford made his way back to where it all started.
During his incredible journey from Seahawk to Seahawk, Poona never stopped giving back to his hometown. Each summer, he returned to his old stomping grounds to coach the next group of Lowco gridiron stars in Payne’s All-American Football Camp as a way to thank his former coach for the work he did to help Poona’s climb to the sport’s highest level. Without the many camps and college visits that Payne has organized for his players every year, the future star may have never gotten the chance that he deserved.
“He really started the whole thing, as far as me getting looks from colleges and scholarship offers to go to college for free, doing stuff I never thought I’d be able to do,” Ford said.
Now, with three phenomenal NFL seasons under his belt, Poona made his way back to where his legendary career began: on a small island off the coast of South Carolina. But this homecoming was the most special one yet. Soar Day was a celebration years in the making, a reflection of a young man who put his heart into every workout, every practice, and every game to achieve an unimaginable level of success. And it also was a look into the future. Kids young and old throwing footballs across the shining green grass now have a figure to look up to, one who grew up right where they did. Because of Poona Ford, they know that no dream is out of reach for any little boy or girl growing up on this slice of paradise.
“Never get comfortable,” Ford said. “No matter how good you think you are, find something you can improve on. Keep developing, keep playing the game and learning life. Make sure you do well in school, especially if you want the opportunity to play in college, you’re gonna need school more than you think you do. I want to show these kids that if you work hard, you can do anything you want in life.”
By Wes Kerr