Poona Ford: Journey from a 12-mile island to the heart of the Seattle Seahawks' defense
I could feel my palms start to sweat as I leaned in close to the television, my heart pounding in my throat with anticipation.
It was Monday night and like most other Americans of our time, my friends and I were gathered around the TV in my living room waiting for the Monday Night Football game to begin.
It was finally that time of year: where four out of the seven days in the week were spent with my eyes glued to the screen watching my favorite game and constantly checking up on my Fantasy Football team.
For most others, this was just another normal Monday night match-up between the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears (a game I was only watching to see my competition for the year, Go Pack Go). But for one person in particular, this game was one to be remembered for the rest of his life.
His name is Poona Ford. And he now wears #97 for the Seattle Seahawks.
Poona and I both grew up on a small island on the coast of South Carolina.
Hilton Head Island has a population of roughly 40,500 people. Our high school graduating class had a whopping 300 kids and the ceremony was over so quick, I almost don't remember it. In high school, I wasn't nearly as into sports as I am now, but anyone who didn't live under a rock knew that Poona Ford was good at football. Really good. So when he started getting D1 offers, it wasn't surprising that he shot to stardom in our little beach town.
The offers wouldn't stop.
Last year, I had the chance to speak with Hilton Head High School's Head Football Coach BJ Payne about Poona and his story. When asked about the recruiting process he went through, Coach Payne said, "It got to a point where it seemed like we were getting two major offers a day...he ended up with about 30 and he handled the process very well."
In his senior year at Hilton Head, Poona posted 135 tackles, 28 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 17 pressures, and two forced fumbles- averaging at around 11.5 tackles per game. Coach Payne even once described the way he played the game as violent. And although several D1 coaches showed interest in the star defensive lineman, it was Charlie Strong who won the gentle giants heart.
A year later, Poona was starting for the University of Texas Longhorns. And the rest is history.
We shared his accomplishments.
Growing up on the island, Poona is the first person that I grew up with that made it big. While we were never close friends, he came to a few of my parties (sorry, mom) and we had a few classes together throughout the years.
When I realized my calling for sports, I started following his career at UT very closely. I felt a sense of pride knowing that Poona was doing as well as he was, and reppin' the 843 while doing it. There was something about knowing that you, in some way, were a small part of something that changed someone's life.
Being able to watch his career grow has been one of the most exciting things I've experienced in my 23 years of life. Not because I "know him", but because we share a home.
His coach called him "a breath of fresh air", in the world of athletes.
This Spring, Poona declared for the 2018 NFL Draft- projected to go in the fourth or fifth round. While he ended up going undrafted, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Seattle Seahawks just minutes after the last round of the draft had been completed. Next came summer, training camp, and preseason, and before we knew it, the 53-man roster deadline was upon us.
I chewed at my fingernails nervously as I refreshed the Seahawks Twitter page, waiting for the update. A few moments later, my phone buzzed with a message from BJ Payne: Poona had made the cut. He was a Seattle Seahawk. He did it. He actually did it.
Finally, his time had come.
The volume on the television was turned up so loud I was sure all of my surrounding neighbors would hear it, but I didn't care. There he was, the quiet and sweet football player from high school, standing on the field with Shaquill and Shaquem Griffin, nose to nose with the Chicago Bears' offensive line. Goosebumps covered my arms and legs as we watched him play alongside the best in the world.
Once again an overwhelming sense of pride enveloped me as I looked around at the friends that had gone to high school with Poona and me. Here we were, all in our 20s, all doing something great with our lives, watching one of our own really make it.
We all knew what that moment really meant. Firstly, get a picture with Poona next time you see him at Boardroom. Secondly, anything is possible, even if you grew up on a 12-mile island. You just have to put your best foot forward and make a play.