By PATRICK CASEY
The South Walton Seahawks football team enters the 2012 regular season looking to build on their season-ending victory over Franklin County in 2011 that salvaged a 1-9 record in Bill Wiles’ final game as head coach.
Since November, Wiles has left the school for the top post at Alachua Sante Fe High School with long-time defensive coordinator Phil Tisa earning the promotion to lead the squad this season.
Tisa, who saw his squad rally from a 21-0 deficit at Vernon before falling 21-19 on Friday night in the team’s Kickoff Classic, feels his players showed the spirit he was looking for in not giving up in the face of a large deficit. “We got behind early and made some mistakes that hurt us but the guys kept at it and we slowly began to turn the momentum. We need kids that will fight to the end and they showed the staff that they would not quit.”
The Seahawks have built their offense on a punishing ground attack for the previous nine years of their existence, controlling the clock and shortening games against teams with more speed on the field. In 2012 the Seahawks will continue to pound the ball with senior running back Brandon Whalen leading the way but sophomore starting quarterback Johnathan Ortner should provide ample opportunity for South Walton to throw the football. Ortner had a strong game in the spring and has talented receivers Sage Roberts, Drew Pfeiffer and Bishop Waldrop to throw to this fall.
Malik Washington and Jacob Parker will help to lead an offensive line that will have to protect Ortner during a challenging 10-game schedule. The Seahawks do not have much depth in the trenches but do feature a tight group that has earned their battle stripes.
The defense has struggled to stop the big play at times over the past few seasons and must work to improve on creating turnovers after earning only nine takeaways in 2011. The Seahawks will have several players that play on both sides of the ball so “Iron Man Football” will once again be the norm. The secondary allowed three touchdown passes on Friday night but Drew Pfeiffer had an interception to stop a Vernon scoring drive.
Joe Ledo-Massey will handle the kicking duties and give the Seahawks a legitimate shot at putting three points on the scoreboard when the offense bogs down. Sage Roberts will handle the punting chores.
The schedule is favorable in that six of the Seahawks’ 10 regular season games are in South Walton but the foes are noteworthy. The Seahawks host Baker and Freeport in the first two weeks of the season, a pair of opponents that will also be looking for fast starts in games that are fierce rivalries. The Seahawks head to Northview after an open week to face the District 1 champion, then return home to face an improving Jay squad. A trip to Chipley opens the Seahawks district slate followed by a jaunt to Graceville to face a rebuilding Tigers squad. Three straight home games with Holmes County, Liberty County and Panama City Bozeman will test the Seahawks dearly before the long road trip to Franklin County closes out the season.
“There is no doubt we will have to be at our best to earn wins against our schedule. We have worked hard over the summer and now have a game under our belt. The team has already faced challenges just in practicing with all the rain that has inundated our area in August. We have to get into the weekly grind and go out and see how we match up,” Tisa added in a Saturday morning interview.
Regardless of the outcome, the Seahawks enter their 10th season of competition on the gridiron with renewed optimism as they look to raise the bar and improve on last year’s lone victory.