Sam Payne, second from left, and Bilal Hersi, third from right, sign national letters of intent at Lewiston High School on Thursday. Payne will play lacrosse at Southern New Hampshire University and Hersi will play soccer at Siena College. Pictured with Payne are his parents Kari Payne and Larry Cummins. Pictured with Hersi are his mother Nadifo Issak, father Abdullahi Abdi, brother Abdijabar Hersi and brother Khalid Hersi. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Lewiston High School placed the spotlight on two of its top athletes Thursday afternoon when seniors Bilal Hersi and Sam Payne signed letter of intents to play their sports at the next level.

Payne, after scoring 52 goals and assisting on another 23 for the Blue Devils’ boys lacrosse team as a junior year, signed to play at Southern New Hampshire University, an NCAA Division II school.

Hersi, who helped the Lewiston boys soccer team to a Class A runner-up finish last week, signed with Siena College, a Division I school that wasn’t on his radar until recently.

Lewiston High School senior Bilal Hersi is congratulated after he signed a national letter of intent to play soccer at Siena College. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

This past summer, Hersi attended a camp at Villanova University, at which many D-I coaches saw him play for the first time. Siena coaches contacted Hersi after the camp, which led to him taking a visit to the Loudonville, New York, campus. 

“I went to a Villanova camp and did really, really well there,” Hersi said. “I did really well and (Siena) texted and emailed me and we had conversations. They told me that they think I can change the program, and it was just that kind of thing.

“If I didn’t visit there was no way I would pick Siena. It was the visit that sold me the most. The new facilities, the team chemistry, the coaches and how they have relationships with the players, the players respect the coaches, too.”

Hersi’s journey to playing at the collegiate level started as a freshman when he and his older brother, Abdijabar, sent emails and letters to colleges in an effort to get his name on coaches’ radars.

“I know they can’t talk to him until the junior year, but the biggest thing was just getting his identity out there,” Abdijabar Hersi, who is also a Lewiston assistant coach, said. “A lot of schools started contacting him, and then in the end it all came down to which school Bilal felt comfortable with. You get early exposure.”

Heading into his senior soccer season, Hersi had some big schools on his radar, such as Villanova, but his connection to Siena quickly became the purest.

“They believed how I could be the one to change the program,” Bilal Hersi said. “Little things like that. They told me about my tape and it was just the little things. We connected and it was a place I felt at home and a place I could go to the next level and succeed there.”

Hersi will be attending Siena on a full scholarship and plans to major in business administration with a concentration in sports. 

“I don’t come from a place where I can afford college, so using soccer as a tool to further my education for free is amazing,” Hersi said. “My excitement level is definitely high. I don’t show it a lot, but I am really happy. It shows that if you’re from a place like this, you can succeed. There are no boundaries.”

Hersi’s coach, Mike McGraw, said he was there for anything Hersi needed during the process of picking a school. McGraw believes the star senior made the right decision and that his move to D-I soccer will inspire younger players in Lewiston. 

“Look at all the kids around,” McGraw said. “There are a lot of younger kids who will say, ‘OK, that’s how that works.’ He’s a great role model for all these kids. If they ask him about it, they have to listen, because it wasn’t always that easy and he put the work in.”

Payne’s coach, Ben Fournier, helped guide Payne a little bit during the process, but left the decision up to the player.

Bilal Hersi, left, and Sam Payne signed national letters of intent at Lewiston High School on Thursday. Payne will play lacrosse at Southern New Hampshire University and Hersi will play soccer at Siena College. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“We chatted about it a little bit last season, about some of his options,” Fournier said. “He was wondering what I thought would be good for him. He’s a great player and he had a lot of schools to choose from. They’re going to be lucky to have him and will be able to use him.”

Like Hersi, Payne’s visit to SNHU, which is located in Manchester, clinched his decision. 

“It was confusing at times, but it kind of developed more after my junior season,” Payne said. “During the summer I took a visit to Southern New Hampshire and I loved the campus, loved the coaches. From there, it kept rolling and it felt like it was meant to be.”

Lewiston High School senior Sam Payne spends time with friends after he signed a national letter of intent to play lacrosse at Southern New Hampshire University. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Payne played hockey for Lewiston the past two years, but this season he is planning to play box lacrosse in an effort to stay in the lacrosse mindset leading up to his final season at Lewiston. Payne said he will play for the Saco-based Maine Northmen, who last month won the Interstate Box Lacrosse Association national championship in Huntington Beach, California.

“I just liked everything about the team. How the offense was running, it is going to work with the type of player I am,” Payne said. “It felt really similar to kind of what I’ve done throughout Lewiston and club teams. It’s organized but it still had the aspect of bringing your own type of game to it and creativity. It just felt really fun to play. It was fun to watch.”

Payne hopes to have an instant impact at SNHU, and Fournier believes that he can. 

“He could have gone to a really big school and not played much or you could go to a bit of a smaller school and get playing time,” Fournier said. “He will get playing time right away and it will challenge him to up his game. I have no doubt he will make an impact.”

Sam Payne, second from left, and Bilal Hersi, third from right, sign national letters of intent at Lewiston High School on Thursday. Payne will play lacrosse at Southern New Hampshire University and Hersi will play soccer at Siena College. Pictured with Payne are his parents Kari Payne and Larry Cummins. Pictured with Hersi are his mother Nadifo Issak, father Abdullahi Abdi, brother Abdijabar Hersi and brother Khalid Hersi. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: