'We're more athletic than we've ever been' - South Walton Seahawks look to continue high-speed offense

Tina Harbuck

Big, experienced and athletic makes for a good recipe when it comes to football. And apparently that’s what’s cooking at South Walton High in Santa Rosa Beach this season.

With the largest number of athletes ever, the South Walton Seahawks have 75 players in the football program this season, with 36 on varsity and 39 on the junior varsity.

“They’re definitely working hard and we’re more athletic than we’ve ever been,” said South Walton Coach Phil Tisa. “But a lot of what we’re going to do depends on the trenches.

“We have the athletes, but the trenches are going to have to be the ones that step up to determine our success,” he added.

In the trenches will be players such as Nick Slade at tackle and Cole Wickman at guard.

“Slade is one of our taller, bigger kids,” Tisa said of the 6-foot-4-inch player who weighs in at 240 to 250.

Wickman is a four-year starter and has actually slimmed down some from last year, Tisa said. Wickman is about 5 foot 10 inches tall and weighs about 200 pounds.

Max White at center is 6 foot 4 inches and weighs 210 and right guard Bradley Robinson weighs 250 and stands about 6 feet.

Payton Strain, 5 foot 10 inches tall, 215 pounds, is back in the lineup at right tackle after coming back from an ACL tear.

“We have 20 to 22 that played varsity (last year),” Tisa said. “We’ve got our largest group of seniors that we’ve ever had. We have over 20 seniors; we’ve got a lot of experience.”

And in that group of seniors are a lot of skilled players that are returnees such as Austin Garofalo, Jeremiah Crittenden and Jireh Crittenden.

Plus the Seahawks have a couple of move-ins that are looking promising, like Jake Bari, who moved in from Niceville, and Demarcus Warner, who moved in from Louisiana.

Tisa mentioned others players such as Jack Bruner at quarterback and Daniel Leuze at running back.

“We’ve got skilled positions,” Tisa said. “The biggest question mark is the line on both sides of the ball and just seeing what they can do.”

Also, the defense is unknown.

“It’s hard to tell … they haven’t had pads on yet, so we don’t know what the defense can do. Graceville will be a great test for them,” he said.

South Walton, who finished last season at 6-4, will play Graceville in a kickoff classic at home at 7 p.m. Aug. 19.

And the Seahawks game plan is to roll quickly on offense.

“We’re going to go as fast as the referees will allow us to go,” Tisa said. “I think it gives us an advantage and the fact that we have depth at the skilled positions allows us to do that.”

And with the big numbers, the Seahawks have less players starting on both sides of the ball than they have had in the past.

“They’re a fun group to coach,” Tisa said. “Very talented … most talented group I’ve seen here by far. But how it all turns out is going to be up to them.”