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Polk County football 2018: Big foundation builds ‘air of confidence’

Bruce Ollis is thinking big about the 2018 football season.

Bruce Ollis is thinking big about the 2018 football season.

Not just big dreams of hanging Polk County’s first Western Highlands Conference championship banner since 2013, certainly one of the Wolverines’ primary goals this season. But visions that begin with the returning size and experience in the offensive and defensive lines that Ollis thinks will be vital to Polk County’s fortunes.

“We can be really good upfront on both sides of the football,” said Ollis, who begins the second season of his second stint at Polk County. “Coaches will tell you, from Peewees to the NFL, that football games are won in the trenches. We’re off to a good start. We’ve got good skill players to go with them, but that’s where the strength starts.”

The Wolverines will begin the journey with that strength on Friday, traveling to Chase for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in their season opener.

After months of workouts and drills since last year’s loss at Mount Airy in the second round of the state 1A playoffs, Ollis is more than ready for Opening Night.

“I think we had a very productive spring practice, and that gave us momentum moving into the summer,” he said. “The majority of our players gave great effort this summer.

“There’s an air of confidence with this football team. Our players are smart enough to know that if we play like we’re capable of and give great effort and execute like we’re capable of doing, we can have a great season.”

And that belief does begin in the trenches.

Senior Luke Sellers (6-4, 290), already drawing college interest, heads an offensive line that includes returning starters Logan Conner, Hayden Shumate and Blake Rackley as well as Daniel Ruff. Tennis standout Ryan Heider has brought his 6-3, 245-pound frame to the football field, where he joins Lukas Tipton at tight end. There’s also depth with players such as Trey Thompson, Carlos Sedano, Jordan Searcy, Malakhi Nodine, Avery Staton, Josh Lawter and Grant Waddell.

“We’ve got some depth,” Ollis said. “We’ll run a lot of two tight-end sets, and we may try Trey Thompson at one of those to get an extra blocker out there.”

The blocking will be valuable, because there’s offensive talent behind it.

At the helm of Polk County’s offense will be senior Avery Edwards, who took over starting quarterback duties late last season at Mountain Heritage and held them for the final four games of the season. Edwards threw for 371 yards and three touchdowns in that span. Sophomore Tyler Staley will back up Edwards at quarterback and has been labeled as one of the bright spots of the preseason by Ollis.

Edwards will be joined in the starting backfield by 1,800 yards worth of returning rushing in tailback Elijah Sutton (1,293) and fullback Bryson Seay (502).

“Avery, Bryson and Elijah, that’s a three-headed monster, no doubt,” Ollis said. “Our first objective will be to run the football. All three of those are productive runners. I’ve coached a lot of football teams and never had three runners fo for 1,000 yards each. That’s a possibility this year.”

Mitchell Yoder, Cameron Blackwell and Shane Parris are also expected to see time in the backfield, and Ollis has also been high on each of those backs during the preseason.

When Edwards looks to throw, Grant Wooten and Jordan Bishop will be among his top targets as well as Heider and Tipton. Jacob Petoia and James Smith could also figure into the mix at wide receiver and tight end, respectively.

Sophomore Matias Akers has joined the team and will handle placekicking duties will continuing to play with Polk County’s soccer squad.

The Wolverine defense had one of its best seasons statistically last season for an Ollis-led Polk County team, and many of those faces return.

Seay and Tipton will anchor the defense at the linebacker spots, with Smith and Blackwell also seeing time there. Ollis is excited about seeing Seay at linebacker after he had a stellar sophomore season at defensive end.

“Bryson is moving to what is a natural position for him,” Ollis said. “He grew up playing inside linebacker.”

Conner, Shumate, Sellers, Ruff, Tipton, Thompson and Staton will be among the most prevalent names in the defensive line, with others rotating in to provide relief. Sutton is moving out of the secondary to drop end, joined by Heider.

The Wolverine secondary will include Yoder and Bishop at the corners and a combination of Parris, Wooten, Evan Miller and Brady Hall at the safety spots.

“Our secondary is the least experienced group. They’re going to have to grow up in a hurry,” Ollis said. “Our front seven will predicate a lot of how good we are.”

Sellers enjoyed a successful junior season as a punter, but Ollis is hoping Akers can step in and fill that position as well.

“I want to thank (soccer coach Josh) Trejo for working with us and letting his guys be involved with us,” Ollis said. “I would like to get our 6-4, 290-pounder punter off the field. That’s nothing against Luke, who has done a great job there. I would just like to give him a break.”

One other thing Ollis hopes to do this season – and moreso in the future – is begin to limit the number of eight-quarter players, those athletes who dress with both the varsity and junior varsity each week.

“I’ve got it where if things work out, we’ll have only three,” he said. “Right now, we’re evolving to that and we have maybe five or six. My intention is to have 30 guys playing on Thursday nights (with the junior varsity program) and another 30 playing on Friday nights. I don’t think it’s productive for a guy to have to play two nights in a row.”

For years Polk County, Owen and Hendersonville ruled the WHC. That mantle has shifted north in recent years to Mountain Heritage and Mitchell.

There’s a hunger in the Wolverine locker room for a more southern route to the top of the WNC mountain.

“We feel like we can be in the mix,” Ollis said. “We proved last year we could play with one of the best 2A teams in the state (a 42-31 loss at Mountain Heritage). We went to Burnsville and had a chance to beat the Cougars.

“The WHC has gone through Burnsville the last few years, and Ledger has had some pretty good teams, too (with Mitchell). I’d like to think we’re going to have some say about the WHC title this season.”

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