Bruce Ollis is Polk County’s head football coach, Jamie Thompson is his defensive coordinator and the Wolverines are ready to make a run at a 1A playoff berth.
Everything old feels new again around the Wolverine locker room.
Polk County’s 2017 football season has a bit of a familiar feel to it as Ollis is again in charge of the Polk County program. The school’s all-time winningest coach accepted an offer earlier this year to return after spending the past three seasons at T.L. Hanna in Anderson, S.C.
The move came courtesy of Thompson, who asked Ollis to consider returning and ending his own three-year stint as the Wolverines’ head coach. The Ollis-Thompson combination produced five conference championships in its previous run. The duo is ready for more.
“Expectations at Polk County High School are always high, and that’s no different now,” said Ollis, who won 110 games in his 12 seasons at Polk. “Having Jamie as our defensive coordinator is a blessing. Not only is he a great defensive coordinator, but he has been a tremendous help for me because he has now been a head coach.
“Jamie is one of the top defensive coordinators around. I think he’s enjoying coaching on that side of the ball again. He does as good a job preparing as anyone I’ve ever been around.”
Thompson’s familiarity with Polk’s personnel also proved useful during preseason drills, especially given the number of returnees. The Wolverines welcome back seven starters on offense and defense, an experienced group that Ollis hopes can help Polk improve upon last season’s 5-7 mark.
“One of the best things I can say about this group is that it’s one of the most coachable groups I’ve ever been around,” he said. “They show up to practice, they’re on time, they give great effort and they’re willing to do the extra things to get better. We enjoy being around them, and I think they enjoy being around us.
“They understand there’s a culture that’s been built here, a program that’s been decently successful the past 15, 16 years. They understand there’s an obligation that comes along with that, and they’re willing to pay the upfront price to obtain the same kind of success.”
How much success Polk County has this year could hinge in part on the play of senior quarterback Dillon Overholt. Overholt threw for 1,138 yards last season and ran for 1,052 and could well build on both totals this season as Polk will continue to run the hybrid-I attack that has become its trademark.
“We feel like Dillon Overholt is one of the finest athletes in Western North Carolina,” Ollis said. “He’s going to be our trigger man, and he’s great at making the engine run smoothly. He leads by example and leads with his play, and can hit a home run with his feet or with his arm.”
Senior Austin Wilson, who missed part of last season with an injury, will see time at fullback, supported there by Bryson Seay and 2016 all-conference pick Braden Miller. Junior Elijah Sutton will start at tailback, with junior Mitchell Yoder also expected to see action there.
“Elijah is also a home run hitter, a sprinter who plays tailback,” Ollis said. “We want to get him the ball in space, so we’ll throw it to him as well.”
At 6-3 with a long wingspan, junior tight end Markell Lipscomb could cause some matchup issues for opponents. Senior Dillon Knighton will start at flanker, with another senior, Chase Bishop, also at wide receiver.
Polk County’s offensive line could also prove to be one of its strengths. Senior Devin Panchyshyn, an all-conference pick a season ago, is expected to be joined by four juniors – Luke Sellers, Hayden Shumate, Avery Staton and Blake Rackley. Sellers (6-3, 290) and Staton (6-1, 260) will line up at the tackle spots, with Panchyshyn and Shumate at guard and Rackley the center.
“They’re the mainstay of what we do,” Ollis said of the line. “Quarterbacks and tailbacks and receivers get the headlines, but the guys in the trenches win games doing the grunt work.
“If those guys play well, everything else will take care of itself. We’re trying to find some ways to rest them, because they’re going to have to play defense, too.”
Sellers, Shumate and Panchyshyn will anchor Polk’s defensive front, with Seay likely to start at rush end and Bishop and Lipscomb to see action at drop end. Program newcomer Charlie McKaig is also expected to see time at one of the end spots.
Inside linebackers Wilson and Miller will be key to Polk’s defensive success.
“They are both very solid players,” Ollis said. “They’re not big talkers, they’re doers. They’re a very coachable group, they run downhill and they are not afraid to be physical.”
Overholt will anchor the secondary at free safety, a spot where he’s begun to garner attention from college recruiters and North Carolina’s Shrine Bowl staff.
“If he just played free safety and not also quarterback, he might have eight to 10 interceptions,” Ollis said. “He may have that many anyhow. He’s one of the better players in the area. He’d rather see us win football games than make the Shrine Bowl. It would be good if he could do both.”
Sutton, Wyatt Derkach and Avery Edwards will see action at cornerback with Knighton moving into the strong safety role.
“He just gets after it,” Ollis said of Knighton. “His motor is always running. He is one of our leaders. He’s a vocal kid who maximizes his potential.”
Senior Luis Hernandez, also a member of Polk County’s soccer team, will handle placekicking chores. Ollis also hopes that Hernandez can take over as the team’s punter, a role that Sellers is currently filling. Knighton will be the long snapper.
Familiar faces also will fill Polk County’s sideline, with assistant coaches Ken Tackett, Zach Searcy, Njele Singogo and Jordan Ollis all alumni of the program.
“It’s great to be around young men I had the chance to coach and who played here,” Ollis said. “They are fully invested as Wolverines.
“We have a small staff. Jordan Ollis has come in and has really done a tremendous job from an organization standpoint. He brings a lot of energy to the staff, being a young guy.”
A challenging schedule awaits. Polk County opens its season at home against Chase, has an open date, then will play its remaining 10 regular-season games without a week off. Included is a streak of four straight away games that begins at Pisgah, followed by East Rutherford and the start of Western Highlands Conference play at Owen and Avery. Polk County will also host Mitchell for a televised game on Oct. 19.
“That will tell us a lot about our football team,” Ollis said of the extended road trip. “We’re going to have to get through that and and come out the other end.
“We’ve got a tough non-conference schedule that I think prepares us for an opportunity to be a viable player in the Western Highlands Conference race. We feel like by the end of the season, once we get into our conference schedule, we’ll have something to say about who’s the title winner. We think we can be in that mix.”